Mae West was right.
An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.
She understood the art of false pretenses.
Sadly, this art is common in the world of immigration politics.
Rather than expediting proposals on family unity, permanent residency, and deportation policies, elected officials espouse whatever empty rhetoric seems politically prudent at the moment.
Media Confusion And Political Distortion
Given the lack of political clarity, many turn to the media for insights about the future of immigration reform.
However, the mainstream media provides little help in separating truth from fiction.
As a result, the majority of folks, left and right, are forced to rely on personal instincts to sort through a maze of contradictory news accounts.
In general, the public supports reform, but the contours of that support is jagged, an outcome that reflects various journalistic biases.
With mid-term elections nearing, the heightened political drivel induces greater public confusion.
To illustrate, consider this sample of curated immigration news over the past month.
Senator Schumer’s New Promise To Pass Reform This Year
When it comes to immigration reform, Democrat Charles Schumer is the Senate’s town crier.
He’s at it again.
“Immigration reform is coming.”
“Immigration reform is coming.”
Like a modern day Paul Revere, he likes to claim liberty and justice for immigrants is right around the corner, despite any ties to political realities.
At the end of April, he once again announced immigration reform will be passed soon.
Does he really know something the public is not privy to? Or is this just another premature pronouncement to gain a public relations moment?
Charles Schumer Promises Immigration Reform
New York Daily News, Erica Pearson, April 28, 2014, New York Daily News
“I want to let you in on a little secret. We are going to pass that bill and sign it into law this year,” said the New York Democrat, one of the authors of a Senate immigration bill that would provide a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, overhaul the current system and boost border enforcement.
Even before the Gang of Eight went public with their proposal for immigration reform nearly 16 months ago, Schumer was telling the press about the forthcoming plan.
Earlier this year, he encouraged House Republicans to support a lay-away approach to immigration reform. Pass the bill now. Defer implementation a few years when Obama is no longer president.
A strange idea, to say the least. However, in his latest media moment, he was still pushing his lay-away concept.
Now, he claims inside knowledge that an immigration bill, which may not be the same as the Senate bill pushed by the Gang of Eight, will be passed by the House.
According to Schumer, the Republican Party has to pass an immigration bill to avoid losing election after election.
Of course, he was speaking to a pro immigration reform organization at the time of his comments.
In actuality, his comments add nothing new about current reform deliberations and electoral calculations.
One can only hope the town crier doesn’t turn into the Senator who cried wolf too many times.
Boehner: The President Must Earn Republican Party Trust
Despite the proclamations of Schumer, the political game playing is not near an end.
For instance, in a formal press statement, House Speaker John Boehner told the media that moving immigration reform forward depends on proof that President Obama is enforcing the law.
By that, Boehner meant deportation law.
Can You Trust Obama to Police Immigration? Yes You Can
NBC News, Suzanne Gamboa, April 29, 2014
In his first news conference since Congress returned from a two-week Spring break, Boehner said the biggest impediment on immigration reform is that Obama has “got to show the American people and the Congress he can implement the law the way it may be passed.”
There are more than just a few problems with Boehner’s statements.
First, the way immigration law may look after reform is not an outcome which should be assumed. Boehner, as everyone in Congress, knows Obama is more likely than not to go along with strict law enforcement measures.
Second, Obama’s records on deportations is clear. As most reform advocates already knew, a new study released by the Migration Policy Institute showed Obama has not only built on, but also accelerated border security and deportation policies of the Bush and Clinton administrations.
Of course, there are many other policy and legal reasons undermining Boehner’s claim.
Besides, after 2,000,000 deportations and counting, what more evidence does Congress and anti-immigration reform folks need?
Goodlatte: A Grand Bargain Is In The Works
Next up: Congressman Bob Goodlatte.
Reinforcing Schumer’s comments and casting doubt on Boehner’s fears, Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatter, a Republican, told a Hollywood-sponsored audience that a “grand bargain” was in the works on the status of undocumented immigrants.
Given the entertainment nature of the conference, it is not difficult to wonder if the wording was merely geared to raise expectations far beyond the real politics in Washington, D.C.
A Hollywood moment for a Hollywood event.
Assessed a little closer, Goodlatte’s comments were not glamorous:
Goodlatte Tells Hollywood: Immigration ‘Grand Bargain’ Coming
Riverside Daily Digest, May 2, 2014
Goodlatte . . . would not predict during the interview when such amnesty legislation would pass. “My job isn’t to predict when it’s going to happen. My job is to build the consensus that we need to have immigration reform,” Goodlatte said.
Given his role as Chairperson of the House Judiciary Committee, which provides oversight on immigration issues, Goodlatte’s remarks shed critical insight.
Big promises, zero commitment.
Congressman Labrador: Let’s Make A Deal
About two weeks later, a “real proposal” was floated in the media.
Idaho Congressman, Raul Labrador, a Republican, recommended the GOP drop the 3 and 10 year reentry bars imposed on undocumented immigrants when they seek green card benefits. In exchange, he asked the President to increase the number of visas available for immigrants who work in high-tech fields.
Even though this was perhaps the most substantial piecemeal reform gesture made to date, Labrador’s idea was immediately attacked by both Democrats and fellow Republicans.
In addition, the media reported that immigration advocates condemned the proposal.
Republicans Look To Loosen Penalties On Illegal Immigrants
The Washington Times, Seth McLaughlin, May 8, 2014
“This offer doesn’t come close to passing the laugh test,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. “We want reform that includes legal status and the opportunity at citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.”
“If House Republicans are prepared to give us a vote on that, they should give us a call,” Mr. Sharry said. “If not, they will feel the pressure of a changing electorate until they get on the right side of history.”
Unfortunately, most reporters fail to appreciate that Sharry is more of an Obama apologist than a true immigration reform advocate.
As an immigration lawyer in San Diego who has witnessed the negative effects of current policies on many families, I was disappointed – though not surprised – by the actions of Sharry and other media supporters of the President who promptly poured cold water on Labrador’s proposal.
Weighing its merits apart from party politics does not fit their agenda.
Labrador’s proposal, after all, harms their efforts to ascribe 100% blame for not passing immigration reform on the GOP.
These pseudo reform advocate know Democrats do not support true comprehensive reform. Yet, they readily dismiss any piecemeal approach in favor of accomplishing nothing to help immigrant families.
Whose side do they really represent?
Schumer Warns Obama Against Revising Deportation Measures
Meanwhile, it was reported that Schumer’s office staff expressed their opposition to possible changes to deportation policies by the Obama administration.
With rumors swirling that The Department of Homeland Security will soon release a memo supporting a deportation slowdown of undocumented immigrants, Leon Fresco, a key player in immigration reform negotiations, informed the White House that such a memo could undermine the change of legislative overhaul this year.
Chuck Schumer’s Office, White House Spar Over Immigration Policy Changes
Beyond Chron, Adrian Carrasquillo‚ May. 12‚ 2014
At the meeting, Fresco said that Republican opposition to policy changes, whether they are small — as in the expected memo — or big ones, will be unified and fierce.
According to the sources, Fresco said he believes that if the administration releases the memo ahead of legislative action, House Republicans will then be able to charge that the president is lawless and imperial, and would subsequently kill any legislation on immigration.
This is not a shift from Schumer’s earlier positions on immigration reform.
Interestingly, the meeting between Schumer’s staff and the President’s assistants took place a few weeks ago. Was this before or after Schumer announced a new deal was brewing?
How the President reacts to such pessimism will ultimately dictate his response on immigration reform for this fall.
In light of his past record, the President will likely base his decisions on his perception how the political winds are blowing.
This is not good news for immigration reformers who distinguish right from wrong in the context of potential legislative measures.
The Tea Party Reverses Immigration Position – Or Did It?
Not to be outdone, the Tea Party took center stage on immigration reform.
Supposedly, their position was in support – a reversal of their earlier stances.
The switch became public when Sal Russo, a Tea Party founder and leader, endorsed immigration reform legislation in a news opinion page article.
Contrary to the stringent Tea Party stances on immigration, his position to grant legal status to undocumented immigrants came as a political shock to most political observers.
Yet, in terms of issues, the Tea Party’s position was not ground-breaking.
Strange Bedfellows: Is The Tea Party Really Supporting Immigration Reform?
Puget Sound Business Journal, Karen Ducey, May 14, 2014
“Our laws today are unenforced, and citizens and companies who play by the rules are undermined by bad actors who do not. This undermines our rule of law and slows our economic growth. In today’s global economy, we cannot afford the status quo,” Russo wrote.
In addition he called for a visa for entrepreneurs, and cited a statistic that 40 percent of companies are started by immigrants or the child of an immigrant.
The Tea Party change appears to reinforce a growing trend among conservatives that immigrant workers, high-skilled and laborers, are critical to the health of the American economy.
When reform was merely postured as a law enforcement and border security measure, the plight of undocumented workers was ignored.
With economic matters now part of the immigration stakes, the political dynamics have changed.
Did the Tea Party leadership change their position? Or they simply use a terminology switch to re-endorse aspects of immigration reform they have long supported?
Senator Reid Says Obama May Have To Finally Take Action
At long last, as May reached its end, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, finally stepped up to the plate.
He asserted the Obama administration will have to act alone on stemming deportations if the House doesn’t move on immigration reform by this summer’s end.
Perhaps unwittingly, Reid’s statement confirmed that the Democratic Party leadership has not done as much as it could have over the past several months.
Reid added, in the Democrats world view, there is only six weeks to pass immigration legislation and they want the public focus to be placed on Republican lawmakers, not the administration.
Harry Reid: President Obama May Have To Act On Immigration
Politico, Seung Min Kim, April 22, 2014
We’ve waited 329 days, we’re willing to wait another six weeks,” Reid said Thursday, referring to the number of days that have passed since his chamber passed a comprehensive reform bill.
“But at the end of six weeks, if something hasn’t been done, then there’s gonna have to be a move made. And it’s too bad we have to do that, because we all know things can be done administratively, but it’s better to change the law.”
If there was any doubt about the Democratic game plan, Reid erased it.
Use immigration reform, including promising but delaying changes to deportation policy, for the sake of the Party’s political gain.
Obama: It’s Now Or Never
Last but not least, President Obama gave the closing argument on the failure of his administration to pass immigration reform just a few hours after Reid’s speech.
They forgot to compare notes in advance, and appeared to move in opposite direction.
Obama: Midterm Elections Will Decide The Fate Of Immigration Reform
CNN, Gabe LaMonica, May 23, 2014
President Barack Obama said Thursday night before a hometown Chicago crowd that it was up to Congress to move on immigration reform. He predicted that if Democrats don’t win big in the midterm elections, the overhaul won’t get done.
Obama told supporters at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fund-raiser, “You have a President who is fighting for you in the White House.”
“What you do not have right now is a Congress that can function.”
As usual, the President exaggerated his role on immigration reform.
Most pro-reform advocates feel that Obama has been missing in action on immigration issues. In their perspective, he has used the blame game for several years to defer substantive immigration change.
Even when the President describes immigration reform, his comments are not convincing:
“If we do not hang on to the Senate and make gains in the House,” said Obama, speaking at a private residence, “we may not get immigration reform done, which means we could have another three, four years, in which we’re being deprived of talent we’re training here in the United States – they go back home and start businesses someplace else.”
First, the immigration push by the majority of reform activists is not based on high tech visas. The impetus stems from broken families, with undocumented immigrant parents, spouses, and children.
Second, if immigration reform is not achieved by 2014, we’ll try again next year.
That’s a bet you can take to the bank.
The commentary about six-week windows and need to control the political agenda are fear-based tactics.
For politicians seeking reelection, such deadlines are reality. For immigrant families, suffering from a broken immigration system,such time frames are critical but not the end of the quest for justice by any stretch of the imagination.
So, now that this review is completed, do you have a better grasp of immigration reform’s future?
Don’t feel bad. Neither do I.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics