Spare me the manufactured drama over immigration.
Today, it’s 2014 midterm elections and the GOP calculation to hold the House and perhaps narrowly capture the Senate (despite a few “rogue” Republicans such as Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman). The strategy relies on voter turnout which for midterms, hinges on reliables–older, white voters. Some are against immigration reform because they believe immigration is actually amnesty–a reward for lawbreakers. A few believe today’s immigrants are inferior and will bring down America as I write in Heritage Immigration Report: Latino Small Brains and Long Political Memory.
Our 24/7 media culture covers immigration–if it does–like a horse race. The problem is the simplification that comes from the binaries:
Good guy/Bad guy which was the role played by President Obama and House majority leader Eric Cantor around the Passover and Easter holidays over some shared words, apparently in the spirit of the Resurrection of Christ and the Liberation of the Exodus story. Until the Prez and the Jefe of the House got all Mean Girls with Obama’s Felices pascuas, actually a criticism about Republicans stalling immigration reform, according to Cantor’s office.
The manufactured drama between these two powerful men–or the daily media horse race–is distasteful and childish when you consider the true victims of a stalled immigration reform: the millions of families, many with U.S. citizen spouses or children–separated by current laws being arbitrarily enforced as documented in the scathing report Detention, Deportation, and Devastation: The Disproportionate Effect of Deportation on the Latino Community (The title should dispel any doubts of the report authors’ position on this issue).
This fact can not be forgotten while the spin doctors for, on one hand, the President and Democrats and on the other, Republicans, jockey for advantage in the court of public opinion populated by voters, constituents, and the media. It is true that since 2009, new deportation cases have been declining steadily and that judges have ruled against removals, resulting in a 43% drop in the number of deportations through the court systems, according to the Department of Justice.
However, overall, deportations are at historic highs because this President early in his first term made a faulty calculation that beefing up enforcement and border security (which had already been “10 x’ed” after 9/11) would eliminate conservative opposition to immigration reform. No “We Are the World” was sung. Rather, Republicans outmaneuvered him, allowing the extreme fringe–and not the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or Evangelical Christians who form a key part of today’s immigration reform coalition–to hijack the debate, ultimately stalling the Senate version in the House. The only ones happy with the Immigration Business As Usual are the private contractors who build and run the detention centers and the federal agencies such as Customs and Border Protection (CPB) and Immigration, Customs, and Enforcement (ICE) whose taxpayer funded budgets have surged, together nearing $18 billion dollars.
Every time the President says his hands are tied, I chafe. Indeed, he is not a king and Congress makes laws (something that hasn’t happened since he was elected and Republicans vowed to focus more on defeating him in 2012 than doing their job). Remember executive authority, which the President invoked at the beginning of this year, prompting me to recommend he use this power to grant more deportation relief as I write in State of the Union: Immigration Executive Authority. The precedent exists in the form of DACA which pressed the deportation pause button for the so-called DREAMers and was brought about by the extreme pressure of advocates in the summer of 2012 as I write in The Latino Vote: Checkmate President Obama.
The effect is eroding confidence in the President which has contributed to a 22 point drop in his approval ratings since he handily won the Latino vote with a 3 to 1 margin in 2012. Although Democrats, especially those in midterm races, should be worried, what’s the alternative for Latino voters? Republicans’ civil war over the party’s direction and future has turned immigrants–especially Hispanics–into scapegoats for this country’s ills? The answer lies with Paul Ryan’s comments at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce speech. The former VP candidate with future presidential ambitions reminded the audience that politics is a full contact sport. He is correct and this requires consistent civic and voter participation. Politicians are equally terrified by well-funded special interests groups as they are by angry voters.
Still, midterms are tricky because of historic across the board low voter turnout. Add to this the reality of the electoral map. Representative Steve King represents an Iowa district characterized by demographics that aren’t exactly East L.A. or Union City, New Jersey. But even King’s district has “Hispanic pockets.” It’s not just Latinos coming out in support of immigration reform. It’s also mobilizing an even broader, rock solid immigration coalition. Our greatest civil rights laws passed because whites–and others–felt and became invested.
Really want to move immigration reform forward? Get DREAMers to volunteer at retirement communities in key Republican districts as I write in To Save Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Advocates Must Volunteer at Old Folks’ Homes, converting those “reliables” to this cause. Make every race competitive through participation. Politicians like Steve King, John Boehner, and Barack Obama love one thing more than principle–winning a race and the ensuing power. With our vote, let’s show them how we want them to lead.
Click below to watch my first participation on MSNBC’s The Reid Report with host Joy Reid and Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank. This segment aired on April 17, 2014.Will immigration reform happen before the 2016 Presidential election?