If Obama wins, he’ll owe Latinos big time

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Among Latinos, President Obama’s broken promise to fix the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system remains a bitter reminder of the limits of politics. The president shored up his support among that critical demographic with his DREAM Act Lite, a presidential directive that could give about a million young undocumented persons work permits for two years.

But the larger problem remains: Millions of people who hope to become American citizens, or at least documented residents, are stuck in a miserable shadow existence — unable to legally drive, work or fly. They are subject to exploitative bosses because they cannot complain about unsafe working conditions. They are victimized by brigands because they are afraid to report crimes to the cops. They dare not travel to their home countries because border patrols have tightened, and they may not be able to return.

So it’s no wonder that Obama has set his sights on broad immigration reform in a second term. According to an interview with an Iowa newspaper, he pledged to turn first to a budget deal that would start to eliminate the deficit and then to quickly pivot to legislation that would set illegal immigrants on a path to papers.

This has been much too long in coming. Republican nominee Mitt Romney has tried to blame Obama for his failure to keep his word — even when he had a Democratic Congress. But that’s just more campaign nonsense. The simple truth is that Republicans in the Senate set a high bar for any bill that passed: enough votes to overcome a threatened filibuster. And once Obama had managed to pass a stimulus bill and health care legislation, the GOP was determined to stymie any other accomplishments.

And they stymied immigration reform even under a Republican president. It wasn’t that long ago that George W. Bush, who had a decent relationship with Latinos as governor of a border state, tried to push through a deal that would have given illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship. At first, he had tepid support among a core group of Republicans in Congress.

But the GOP base, drifting further rightward even then, wasn’t having it. Republican voters rebelled. Republican Senators panicked. Immigration reform died.

That’s not to say that Democrats don’t deserve some of the blame for the impasse. They might — with emphasis on the uncertainty — have persuaded a small group of Republicans to vote for the DREAM Act in the early days of the Obama administration. That’s legislation, first introduced about a decade ago, that would allow young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to gain citizenship under certain conditions, including records free of criminal acts and completion of two years of college or military service.

But several Latino legislators were dead-set on passage of comprehensive reform — a bill that would extend a path to citizenship to grandmothers as well as their teenaged kin. They thought a smaller bill would only delay a broader deal. It’s now clear they should have gone for the DREAM Act, even if it, too, ended up stalled by GOP intransigence.

Obama believes that Republicans would be forced to change their stance on immigration reform if he is re-elected. Giving an interview that he initially believed was off-the-record, he spoke bluntly about the politics: “Since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community,” Obama said, according to The Washington Post.

Comments

  1. Judy says:

    Dear Ms. Tucker
    I have listened to, read, and learned from you since watching you years ago on PBS and now reading your columns. I’ve always found you made the most sense to me on issues. The one exception is illegal immigration.

    You quoted President Obama saying, “Should I win a second term a big reason I will win … is because the Republican(s) … have so alienated the fastest growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community,.” This made me decide to write to you, as it illustrates one more reason I oppose illegal immigration. Currently it privileges people mainly from one area, Latin America. We already have powerful interest groups driven by allegiance to the narrow interests of their immigrant communities. I think of two of our least rational foreign policy arenas: Israel and Cuba. We don’t need a third.

    On immigration I know I am at odds with two groups that I am part of: people of faith and political liberals. These are two of the groups speaking most strongly in support of immigrant rights or access to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally. I am not anti-immigrant.
    Rather, I think immigrants should be here as a result of democratically determined national policy, not because powerful economic interests in the U.S. and Mexico are well served by the oppressive circumstances that produce immigrants.

    There are a number of reasons people of faith and people on the left support immigrant rights, but they have two main things in common on this issue. I think you share these prespectives. You and they have deep concern for the underdog and believe immigrants will be a source of rebirth for them and the issues they hold dear.

    For a religious person welcoming the struggling immigrant may seem the right thing to do. I think, however, that mass illegal immigration into our country creates a safety valve that allows autocratic governments to exploit their citizens. The challenge to religious groups wanting to help immigrants is to find effective ways to attack root causes. There are Good Samaritans who risk prison and fines of $500,000 for taking illegal immigrants to the hospital, however, U. S. employers who violate immigration laws and hire illegal immigrants, do not receive equivalent punishment. Acts of charity must be done, but those who do them need to realize they are putting a band-aid on the problem. Concerned religious people should be picketing the employers who exploit illegal immigrants’ labor. They should also lobby for enforcement of employer fines for those who exploit undocumented workers. As jobs for illegal immigrants dry up here they will return home and their governments will have to begin to be responsive to their needs, especially if churches joins with others to develop the right to unionize across national borders and work to make free trade deals fair trade.

    Religious teachings ask followers to befriend the stranger. It is possible, however, to be a person of faith and agree with the conclusions of the 1986 Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy chaired by a highly respected religious leader, Father Theodore Hesburgh, who served as president of Notre Dame University. The Hesburgh Commission report stated that immigration was “out of control” and warned of special interests, including religious ones, who did not see a need to limit immigration. The same thing is still happening today.

    Political liberals generally side with the underdog, the working class, the little guy. Liberals, however, seem more concerned about the problems of illegal immigrants than those of American workers. President Obama and the Democratic controlled Congress (2009-2011) did not work to get the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) passed, as promised to millions of American workers in the 2008 campaign. Comprehensive labor law reform would do more than the proposed “comprehensive immigration reform.” This is code for the right-wing getting a form of indentured labor and the the left-wing getting amnesty. The result all the way around is cheap labor.

    Championing immigrants may be based on an altruistic motive of helping the underdog, but there is also a self-serving motive. Both liberals and religious groups believe the huge influx of immigrants is a source of new blood to bolster their declining memberships. I know my church and I sense many other churches seek to grow by welcoming religious immigrants. And neither political party, though the Democrats are now certainly more united on this than the Republicans, wants to alienate a huge potential voter bloc. Your quote from President Obama states this outright.

    Wages are stalled, unions are in retreat, and political progressives feel thwarted, but a new progressive movement energized by recent immigrants is not likely to materialize. History shows the very changes progressives want are less likely to happen when immigration is at its highest. The lack of gains made by freed slaves after the Civil War can be traced in part to the growing availability of immigrant labor, my ancestors included. The U.S. would probably have universal health care today if we had had a strong labor movement. The universal health care found in Western European countries is in large part a product of the strong labor union movements in those countries. The U.S has never had a labor movement as strong as those in Western Europe in part because workers attempting to organize here could always be replaced by the next immigrant wave. This dark side and high cost of mass, uncontrolled immigration are hardly ever articulated, while the mantra, “We are a nation of immigrants,” is used to explain everything and examine little. I believe the long-term result of our current mass immigration will be more poverty and fewer progressive gains on both sides of the border.

    The rise of government by corporation is one manifestation of this. Only a healthy democratic state can curb the power of corporations. Given the long-term weakness of Mexico’s democracy and the increasing weakness of U.S. democracy, the answer is not to give the corporations more of what they want: “free” trade bills and weak national borders. Instead the answer is revision of repeal of “free” trade bills to protect national sovereignty, workers, and the environment. We should also require U.S. employers to use E-Verify. This goes after illegal employers in the U.S. who benefit from exploiting migrants. True “comprehensive” immigration reform would include fair trade, E-Verify, and drastic changes in our policies towards Mexico and its ruling elite.
    Those who believe they can end or ameliorate the suffering and exploitation of migrants by weakening national boundaries are playing into the hands of the crony capitalists. They crony capitalists don’t want strong national boundaries and will get them weakened any way they can, including manipulating the sympathies of those of us who care about exploited and frightened people.

    Family reunification is one way sympathies are played on. This policy, however, tends to privilege the family that has even one person in the U.S., as he or she can then bring parents, grandparents, adult children, brothers, sisters and all of their spouses who can then bring their parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and on and on. Only dependent children should have the family relationship as an advantage. When my grandparents came here as teen-agers and young adults they knew they’d never see their parents or other family members again. Today we have jet travel, cell phones, etc. Extended families have many ways to stay in touch, support, and visit each other. All family members do not have to live in the same country.

    In any “comprehensive” immigration reform the impact of the brain drain on sending countries needs wise consideration. Relying on talent from other countries has, I think, made us less committed to investing in our citizens. It also deprives weaker countries of the talent they have develop to and so deperately need.

    Both liberals and people of faith have a combination of admirable and self-serving reasons for championing immigrants. Others involved in this complex issue also have a range of motivators. I hope there can be an extensive examinationand discussion of the issues, and not the narrow, often uphelpful conversation we have had so far. Thanks for hearing me out.

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