And so it ends.
President Obama’s presidency will be remembered as a historic time for our country, but not for the reasons you may be thinking. To the contrary, his legacy is pockmarked by sweeping anti-immigrant enforcement policies that will be remembered as an unwashable stain on the history of the United States. The only thing remotely close is when Roosevelt rounded up Japanese-Americans in internment camps. And I’m not exaggerating.
In Obama’s last year in office, his deportation force apprehended 530,250 immigrants nationwide, conducting 450,954 removals and returns. In total, he deported more immigrants in his tenure than all Presidents of the 20th century combined. Refugee mothers and children spent their second Christmas together in one of Obama’s deportation internment camps for immigrant families. Their pleas for a pardon fell on deaf ears as criminals with gun crimes were set free.
According to Syracuse University’s Transactional Access Clearing House (TRAC), Obama’s prioritization of the deportation of refugee mothers with children created a backlog of 102,342 deportation court cases, surpassing the 100,000 case mark for the first time. TRAC determined that pending priority cases involving unaccompanied children reached 75,582 in December 2016. Combined with family cases, deportations involving women and children now account for one third (33%) of the immigration court’s overall backlog.
As for the backlog, on Day 1 of Donald Trump’s presidency, there are currently a record-breaking 533,909 pending Obama deportation cases. The first person to be deported as a result of a Trump interior enforcement action will likely not take place until after the midway mark of his first term in office.
To add salt, the Obama administration’s parting gift to immigrant communities was a Supreme Court argument seeking to overturn a lower Court ruling that provided certain immigrants a defense to removal, and which if accepted, will make it even easier for subsequent administrations to effectuate deportations with no relief available.
But that’s not all.
Immigration was Obama’s major focus of federal criminal law enforcement efforts, comprising 52 percent of all federal prosecutions in FY 2016. In the last 12 month cycle ending in September 2016, federal prosecutions of immigration-related crimes were tallied at 69,636. Conversely, federal criminal prosecutions for gun-related offenses were only 5.8% of all charged federal crimes. In plain language, Obama talked the talk on guns, while mostly doing nothing, and walked the walk on immigration, focusing the majority of Department of Justice resources prosecuting and convicting immigrants for the crime of trying to get back to their families.
Make no mistake about it, this was Barack Obama’s anti-immigrant America. Only there were no Million Mom Marches for jailed refugee mothers, and Democrats stood mostly silent as Obama conducted deportation raids against toddlers.
Civil rights activist César Vargas, founder of UPLIFTT (United People for Latinos in Film TV and Theater), was less diplomatic in his insightful analysis of the Obama years. He astutely observed that “if a Republican had done what Obama did to Latinos you would’ve been calling for a civil war. But now you’re out here protesting inaugurations and calling legitimate wins illegitimate.” He cautioned people not to fall for “party line” politics.
And that’s exactly the problem.
Democrats spent the past eight years ignoring Obama’s horrendous human rights violations because he had a ‘D’ at the end of his name. Some on the Left did far worse than sticking their head in the sand by actively undermining those brave enough to voice the truth.
As for turning the page, the same people that sat on the sidelines cheerleading for Obama as his policies devastated immigrant communities are now up in arms because Trump has indicated that he wants to focus immigration enforcement resources on deporting serious criminals. I wonder where we heard that before? Mind you, when Obama said it hypocritical Democrats in the immigration law community called it “smart” immigration enforcement.
So what does the future hold?
I predict that Trump’s election may end up being the very best thing that could have happened for certain immigrants. Specifically, DREAMers. So far no executive action has been taken to reverse Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and it has already been reported that President Trump has expressed a willingness to work with Congress to craft legislation that will provide legalization for immigrants benefiting from it. Work WITH Congress? What a novel concept, and likely more effective than demagoguing Republicans for eight years, which parenthetically was the central component of Obama’s failed immigration reform strategy.
But let’s be honest. Achieving immigration reform was never Obama’s goal. His goal was to win elections by casting Republicans as anti-immigrant, which is probably his only lasting achievement on the immigration front.
So, let us raise a glass and bid farewell to the Deporter-in-Chief. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Matthew Kolken is an immigration lawyer and the managing partner of Kolken & Kolken, located in Buffalo, New York. His legal opinions and analysis are regularly solicited by various news sources, including MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, The Washington Post, Forbes Magazine, and The Los Angeles Times, among others. You can follow him @mkolken.
[…] (a topic I asked him a few weeks ago on Latino Rebels Radio) and how it was problematic (hello, Deporter-in-Chief). In his answer, Castro explained how the Obama policy evolved over the years (perhaps because […]