Another broken promise on immigration

September 11, 2014

Nicole Colson looks at why Barack Obama and the Democrats capitulated once again.

NO, HE won't.

Barack Obama disappointed Democratic Party core supporters once again when the White House announced the president wouldn't carry out promised executive action on immigration--in order to appease moderate and conservative Democrats ahead of the midterm elections in November.

Once again, hope and change gave way to concession and cowardice.

Back in late June, Obama gave a speech in the White House Rose Garden where he denounced congressional Republicans for blocking consideration of any legislative proposals described by lawmakers as "comprehensive immigration reform." The president said he would have Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder give him recommendations for executive action by the end of summer--and pledged to "adopt those recommendations without further delay."

"America cannot wait forever for [Republicans] to act," Obama declared, expressing his frustration with Republicans for their failure "to pass a darn bill."

The most eagerly anticipated action was an executive order to defer the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants who have children who are U.S. citizens and who have lived in the U.S. for many years. Obama swore he would protect immigrant families and keep them together--never mind that his administration has overseen an unprecedented expansion of deportations that rip these families apart.

President Obama on the campaign trail
President Obama on the campaign trail

Now, however, Obama has backtracked on granting even temporary and conditional help after Democrats in close midterm election races kicked up a fuss--claiming Republicans would take advantage if the party was seen to be soft on "illegal immigrants."

The Democrats are capitulating to an anti-immigrant hysteria that was ramped up earlier this year after media attention focused on thousands of children forced to attempt dangerous border crossings into the U.S. because the U.S. government's war on drugs and trade policies have plunged their home countries into poverty and violence.

Racists and reactionaries have used the specter of these children "taking our resources" to claim that any immigration reform measures are too lenient. They demand only a more militarized border and faster deportations--despite the Obama administration's record of deporting more than 2 million immigrants and its recent $3.7 billion proposal to address the "border crisis" that includes further security measures and a sped-up deportation process.

As left-wing journalist Alex Kane wrote recently, "Border Patrol agents are acting like they're at war. A recent Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that the Border Patrol killed 19 people from January 2010-October 2012--including some incidents in which the agents were under no lethal, direct threat."

But that's not tough enough, of course, for the anti-immigrant right, and so Obama and the Democrats made the standard political calculation in deciding to put off executive action until after the November election: Appeal to an increasingly hostile right-wing while taking it for granted that liberals and those on the left will continue to stand by the Democrats because there's no other alternative:


AS ANYONE who has followed the politics of immigration knows, such betrayals and backpedaling by Democrats are nothing new.

In both 2008 and 2012, candidate Obama promised action on immigration reform--but President Obama backed down in the face of Republican opposition. "When it comes to immigration, Obama has a long trail of half-truths and broken promises," columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. wrote at CNN.com. Navarrette went on to document Obama's record on immigration:

In July 2008, the presidential candidate told the National Council of La Raza that, if elected, he would make the issue a top priority and address it within the first 100 days. That didn't happen.

White House officials then moved the goal line to, well, the first term. That didn't happen either.

From 2009 to 2011, Obama told supporters that he couldn't curb deportations because he was "not a king."

Yet, in 2012, eager to re-engage Hispanic voters for his reelection, Obama summoned his inner monarch when he unveiled "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," which gives undocumented young people a temporary reprieve from deportation and work permits.

In 2013, Obama did another about-face and returned to his rhetoric about how he couldn't act alone to stop deportations. He also gave half-hearted support to the Senate immigration bill, which would militarize the border and only legalize about half of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Now, we're in another election year, and Obama is back to cynically using the promise of immigration reform to get Latino voters to turn out.

And that shameful record doesn't even take account of the fact that the White House's idea of "immigration reform" leaves a whole lot to be desired, even if Obama would fight for it.

The bipartisan proposal supported by the Obama administration includes increased border militarization, and even its so-called "path to legalization" is so laden with punitive measures, disqualifications and exclusions that, as SocialistWorker.org's Justin Akers-Chacon argued in June, "it should be seen...as the continuation of the attack on immigrant workers, not a genuine–or even partial--reform."


THE ONLY reason anyone in Washington still talks about immigration reform is the years of protest by activists--especially young immigrants fighting for the DREAM Act in the past few years. These voices have refused to be silent--instead, they have confronted politicians, rallied the community and engaged in acts of civil disobedience in front of the White House to keep immigration reform on the agenda.

Now, once again, Obama has met their commitment with an insulting capitulation. Ironically, this latest betrayal, which is supposed to keep votes for the Democrats in November, may ultimately end up costing the party far more--because it will alienate Latino voters traditionally loyal to the Democratic Party.

"We are bitterly disappointed in the president and we are bitterly disappointed in the Senate Democrats," Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, told the Associated Press. "We advocates didn't make the reform promise; we just made the mistake of believing it. The president and Senate Democrats have chosen politics over people, the status quo over solving real problems."

Carmen Velasquez, founder and former executive director of the Alivio Medical Center in Chicago, described the scope of the disillusionment in a Politico.com article:

When Barack Obama and I last sat down in 2006, I refused to shake his hand. Today, I still won't. His announcement last weekend that he would delay executive action on immigration is his fifth broken promise to Latinos on this all-important issue for our community. He has been blind to the pain of the 1,100 deportations our communities face every day and the anguish our families feel as they are swung back and forth as political pawns.

The question for us Latinos--especially the nearly 24 million of us eligible to vote--is, what to do about this? How can we ensure that the fastest-growing demographic in the country isn't taken for granted by Democrats who purport to be our allies but often dash our hopes in the face of the least bit of political pressure? There are no obvious or even satisfactory answers, but one thing is clear: We've been slapped in the face one too many times by this president.

There is an answer: Break with the Democrats and build an independent political alternative, as left-wing commentator Ted Rall wrote in an Alternet article titled "At Some Point, Progressives Need to Break Up With the Democratic Party":

If you're a leftie, the Democratic establishment doesn't care about your opinion. They certainly don't want your input. What they want is your vote--in exchange for exactly nothing in return. They're political parasites, draining the enthusiasm and idealism of progressives, simultaneously neutering and exploiting mainline libs.

Like a tick, mainline "centrist" (i.e. conservative) Democrats will suck you dry. First they misdirect your hope for real change. Then they extract your vote. By the time you realize you've been chomped, the buggers drop off, bloated on stolen power and wealth...

Then, two to four years later, the parasitical Dems are back to suck out whatever idealism you've managed to regenerate.

If we don't want our political energy drained again, it's time to recognize that the Democrats aren't a political alternative that will accomplish what's needed on issues like immigration--and that we need to build such an alternative ourselves.

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