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Does Obama Have The Courage Necessary For Immigration Reform?

– Posted in: The Obama Years

Once upon a time, I believed government was the solution.

Whatever the problem, be it poverty, health care, the environment, or immigration reform, it seemed elected officials held the key to change in their hands.

Of course, this was long before I became an immigrant advocate and defense lawyer.

In the years since, I’ve watched candidate after candidate use “change” as part of their campaign themes. Gradually, I started to grow tired of the false promises.

So did the voting public.

Sensing this growing disenchantment, our current president added “hope” to the campaign equation.

Unfortunately, hope has lost much of its political luster.

That’s strange.  Keeping hope alive is a lot easier than making change happen.

Even if nothing concrete is achieved, keeping hope alive is quite simple.  It merely requires a warrior battling for higher principles.

The Change Takes Courage Campaign

For many immigration reform supporters hope is no longer enough.

The president’s reluctance to engage in battles over immigration reform, as noted in “The Obama’s Adminstration Hide-And-Seek Approach To Immigration Reform”, has destroyed confidence in his commitment to immigrants.

A Breath Of Fresh Air: An Insider Speaks Out

In that blog post, I discussed an article written by a former lead attorney for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Roxana Bacon, slamming the Obama record on immigration reform.

Writing in the Arizona Attorney, Bacon stated in unusually clear language,  “The neglect in the field of immigration has been so acute that most who care about that hot topic have lost hope change could happen.”  “Si se puede” now looks more like “No me molesta.”

She points to the administration’s four major shortcomings:

  • Lack of Leadership. When immigration reform was brought up, no one stood up to assert direction or purpose.
  • Indifference. When advocates of programs like the DREAM Act pushed forward, the White House was missing in action.
  • Timidity. On the bureaucratic end, claims Bacon, USCIS did not articulate visionary policy statements or practical field directives.  They went underground rather than strive for effective immigration solutions.
  • Duplicity. Moreover, she claims Obama’s pro-immigration supporters were outright duped when they were told implementing tougher-than-ever border enforcement measures would appease anti-immigration forces.

Bacon writes,“We need visionary thinking and incisive analysis grounded on economic truths to create the functioning immigration policy the nation needs.”

She added, “None of this is likely to come from this Congress, or from this Administration.”

Bacon’s description reminds me of a popular elementary school yard game.

Like kids playing hide-and-seek, Obama administration officials are afraid to step out of the shadows and risk getting tagged by immigration reform opponents.

Sure, at times, Obama talks favorably about immigration reform.  But there’s always a counter-point, an exception, a caveat.

There’s always an excuse.

For his entire term of office, he hasn’t stood up and fought for immigration reform.

Enter the “Change Takes Courage Campaign”.

Under the leadership of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, the Change Takes Courage Campaign was announced two weeks ago.

The campaign asks the president to use his discretionary powers to support the push for immigration reform.

Specifically, the campaign leaders have asked the president to provide relief to parents of U.S. citizen children, military veterans, and DREAM Act eligible youth – as well as to curb immigration programs undermining the public trust and safety of all communities.

Why Electoral Politics Are Not The Answer To Immigration Reform


That’s an interesting political concept.

At this point, it’s not a term I’d apply to the Obama administration.

As a result, when armchair pundits say, “Immigration reformers have no other option in the next election. Who would do better?” I feel insulted.

To begin, they have the question backwards. When it comes to immigration reform, who would do worse?  Hasn’t the Obama administration set the record for deporting immigrants, many of which do not have any criminal records, two years in a row?

Second, my vote is not a blind vote. I’m not a puppet for any candidate, any party, or even any one issue. I think with my head and I care with my heart – and the combination guides me in all my actions, including which candidates to support.

If I don’t think any of the candidates are worthy of my vote, why vote at all?

Some critics, of course, will assert I should support the least objectionable candidate. Again, this is flawed, short-term thinking.

Isn’t this what the American public has been doing for years? Isn’t this why a viable third party hasn’t gained traction?

In fact, isn’t this why alternative candidates, inside the two giant parties, have trouble overcoming the more commonly acceptable party candidates?

As I learned in a political science class, the election process acts not only as an accelerator but also as a brake. Every four years, the public is allowed to have minimum input that quenches its’ thirst for more fundamental, widespread political changes.

In the end, this keeps the current system pretty much intact.

Will Obama Walk The Talk?

Perhaps more than any other constituency, the pro-immigration reform community is challenging Obama to live up to his bold campaign promises. It’s easy to understand why.

Every day, it seems, I see or hear about hard-working immigrant families being shattered apart. Bright young kids being told to go back to a country foreign to them. Innocent immigrants, born into poverty, who have performed back-breaking jobs for nearly slave wages under horrible work conditions, treated as if they are criminals akin to murderers and rapists.

From my vantage point as an Escondido immigration attorney, this is the reality I see every day.

The good news is some elected officials understand this reality. Earlier this week, 22 Senators wrote a letter to the president.  They noted that Congress is too mired in politics to reform our broken immigration system.

They requested that Obama, at minimum, grant “deferred action” for DREAM Act eligible students.  In their letter, they noted his authority to exercise executive discretion is not new.

Of course, deferred action, alone, is not the remedy needed for immigrants today.  Consider the shortcomings of the DACA program or the ill-advised DAPA program.

Their contention is that until Congress can sit down and hammer out an immigration reform compromise, many highly talented youth will be kicked out of our country unless Obama acts on their behalf.

Maybe nothing will happen again.

The Change Takes Courage Campaign and the letter from the Senators demonstrate hope.

Now it’s time for Obama to prove “hope” is a word with real political meaning, not just another public relations tool he used to manipulate the outcome of the 2008 elections.

In short, immigration advocates are asking Obama to walk the talk.

Either one is for or against immigration reform.

It’s not the words which count.  It’s the actions.

By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics