President Obama offered up a campaign-style impassioned speech Tuesday in El Paso demanding comprehensive immigration reform. Too bad it’s an empty promise.
To paraphrase the president’s recent remarks on a different subject, anybody who really believes there’s going to be any meaningful reform in the near future “needs their head examined.”
There is going to be NO liberalization or rationalization of our broken immigration policy in the foreseeable future. Instead, individual states are going to continue ahead implementing more and more punitive and retrograde nativist measures that show the worst side of our national character.
Yes, Obama said all the right words on Friday. Indeed, it was a great speech. But it was purely political theater. We’re already deep into the 2012 election cycle and the Latino vote is going to be key in so many, many states — and not just in the Southwest. Let it be noted, as his advisers certainly have, that Obama’s popularity among Latinos has sunk 25 points over the last year, according to Gallup. From a favorability rating of 79% among Latinos, Obama is down to just over 50%.
Blame must be properly apportioned here. Just when comprehensive reform seemed a real possibility a handful of years ago, the Republicans got cold feet and punked out. It’s hard to imagine that the grumpy, nasty and reactionary John McCain of today was the same guy who in the middle of the decade co-sponsored truly enlightened reform legislation in partnership with Teddy Kennedy. McCain reversed course abruptly and yet he’s still paying a price for it among his know-nothing Republican constituencies. Immigration reform COULD have been a reality if the GOP has followed the blueprint laid out by none other than GWBush in his 2004 State of the Union speech where he offered a surprisingly forward view of the issue.
So. first and foremost, the Republicans must take the blame for maintaining our official policy of denial.
The Democrats, however, are in close second place. During the four years they controlled congress, and two of those during the Obama administration, they didn’t lift a finger to advance comprehensive reform. Nobody fought for it, including Obama. And ‘nary a Democrat as much as even talked about reform. Even the tepid DREAM Act, which addresses only the tip of the iceberg, was relegated to a lame duck session by Harry Reid in which it was defeated.
The common wisdom is that comprehensive immigration reform is too hot an issue for an election year. Well, folks, every year is an election year. So you can do the math.
One can also argue that the math is such that Obama is prisoner to a reactionary congress. That’s true, for the most part. The president could stand on his head and spit nickels and it would doubtfully open any congressional doors on this issue.
The president could, however, use his executive and administrative power to at least not make things worse. Instead, he has done the opposite. The rate of deportation is now higher than ever as Obama’s ICE has taken on an unparalleled aggressiveness. His abhorrent Secure Communities program, effectively granting federal immigration authority to local police, has been rejected in several states by his fellow Democratic governors and legislators — who would also like to get re-elected.
Staying well within his constitutional authority, the president could direct his Justice Department and DHS leaders on where to put their emphasis. It has been a conscious decision by Obama to have the DOJ ease up enforcement and federal bigfooting on state marijuana laws, for example. There is a whole host of similar directives — both formal and informal– that the White House could issue that would treat the enforcement of immigration law in an infinitely more rational and humane way.
For the Democrats, refusal to take immigration reform seriously is a cynical fraud.
For Republicans to continue to impede it is nothing short of mid and certainly long-term political suicide.
Too bad they have to take so many other honest people down with them.