On Monday President Barack Obama promised to bypass Congress and use all of his legal powers as president to fix the nation’s immigration system.
With tens of thousands of unaccompanied kids from drug war-torn Central America showing up at the U.S. border, creating what President Obama has labeled an “urgent humanitarian situation” —plus Speaker John Boehner flat out telling the president last week that, for the umpteenth time, the House won’t be passing immigration reform this year— Obama seems to believe 2014 is the year to change tactics.
Some are applauding the president’s decision to reform the system with or without Congress’ help. Congressman Luis Gutiérrez from Illinois, an outspoken advocate for the immigrant cause, called the move “the antidote to do-nothingism,” referring to the Republican Party’s constant obstruction of the president’s agenda.
Better late than never seems to be the general consensus within the pro-immigrant reform camp. Yet it’s not the president’s tardiness that bothers me. It’s how he managed to keep his supporters on the line this whole time, and how little they’ll be getting in return, this late in his presidency.
Surely we all remember how millions of Latinos voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because he offered the kind of hope and change they were looking for—namely, the immigration reform kind. Once in office, his administration thought taking on immigration too risky, with not much in the way of political dividends. So he decided to overhaul the nation’s health care system instead. (Notwithstanding that Obamacare was practically co-written by the insurance companies and has countless potentially fatal flaws, mission accomplished.)
Picking up on the president’s reversal, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets demanding immigration reform, but the president simply shrugged his shoulders and kicked that proverbial can of worms down the road.
When 2012 rolled around, millions of Latinos again voted for Obama (in fact, they were crucial in his reelection), hoping he’d realize how important Latinos were and change his attitude toward immigration reform. He damn near ran on immigration reform being the main objective of his second term. You heard Obamaites everywhere talking as if had been the president’s plan all along: “He had to save the economy and take care of health care in his first term. Plus, had he passed immigration reform then, the Democrats would’ve definitely lost big in 2012. After he gets reelected and doesn’t have to worry about winning over people, he’ll push through immigration reform, whether conservatives like it or not.”
I admit it. I myself voted with the faithful millions of duped Latinos in 2012.
Inevitably, the 18 months following Obama’s reelection washed over the flock with a frigidity that only hard disappointment can provide. He gave a speech or two about immigrants, mentioned them briefly in his State of the Union address, described Congress’ inaction as a moral failure, and then called on the Republicans to join him in fixing the nation’s broken immigration system.
To their credit, the Republicans by and large did exactly what they said they were going to do with the president’s reform efforts: they blocked them like a fat guy riding an escalator.
Now Obama seems to understand that the Republicans aren’t going to play ball on immigration reform—not this year, not this decade. So he plans to do what he can, being the leader of the free world and all, to make the immigration system at least a little fairer in the country he just so happens to be the chief executive of.
Here’s hoping he’s able to do a lot.
But while he was reaching for bipartisanship with a party asking for his head, how many immigrants have been left out on a ledge? How many families have been torn apart under his watch? How many otherwise upstanding members of society —good students, hardworking employees, attentive parents— how many have been kept from reaching their full potentials, living in the shadows, always looking over their shoulders, forever fearful of separation from everything they know and love?
How deep has this nation cut itself by discouraging immigrants, the lifeblood of America, from dreaming?
Moreover, that it’s taken six years for the person millions of progressives voted for to finally show up is an outrage in and of itself. Again, the Republicans have to be commended for their consistency here, because, agree with them or not, Republicans almost always do what they say they’re going to do. When a Republican, say, gets elected with the promise of repealing Obamacare, they vote for it over and over again. It might be plain ol’ stubbornness, but whatever it is, I wish the Democrats showed more of it.
The immigration issue gives President Obama to do just that, especially with tens of thousands of unaccompanied, innocent children being apprehended at the border. And yet, after designating the influx of so many migrant kids an “urgent humanitarian situation,” instead of improving their stay here or giving them a pathway leading anywhere but to the devastation they’re fleeing from in the first place, the president sees fit to make it so the child refugees can be deported back to their homelands even faster.
Perhaps I misunderstood his use of the term “humanitarian situation.” I thought he meant saving the children from the bloodshed staining their native soil, not saving us from them.
So while many immigration reform supporters are quick to pat President Obama on the back for deciding to fix the system without Congress’ help (the same help they never were going to give him anyway), that Obama has simultaneously decided to hasten the deportation of tens of thousands of child migrants seeking asylum shows that the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our Congress, but in our president as well.
No matter how expansive his powers might be, Obama isn’t willing to do anything that might upset the other side too much. He still wants to make friends and play nice. He still sees himself as a modern-day Lincoln, binding the nation’s wound after a fierce division. But the Republicans aren’t fleeing any battlefield. On the contrary, they’re very much entrenched and secure (thanks to gerrymandering, big money and the fearful ignorance of too many American voters). Oh yeah, and “USA! USA!” protests.
Faced with such facts, President Obama would be either a fool or insane to believe his kumbaya campaign for bipartisanship will ever succeed. My money’s on Obama being crazy, because while the definition of insanity may be trying something over and over again expecting a different result, the same also describes Obama’s presidency.
Hector Luis Alamo, Jr. is a Chicago-based writer. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.