Marcos Breton: Misinformation is biggest hurdle to immigration overhaul

01/30/2013 12:00 AM

11/13/2013 8:29 AM

As President Barack Obama gave the most important speech on immigration reform in years on Tuesday, it became clear that his greatest foe is not the Republican Party on this terribly divisive issue.

It's misinformation.

There is so much we think we know about immigration that is wrong. Some don't want to know the real truth or seem addicted to having little brown people to blame for all of America's woes.

What's more American than one group dumping on another?

For most of my 50 years, the punching bags of choice have been people with roots in Mexico.

Who could forget 1994, when Gov. Pete Wilson rode Mexican-bashing to a second term in the state Capitol after trailing big in the polls? Wilson can be such a nice guy, too. To him and his men, playing wedge politics by whipping up a frenzy over "illegal immigrants" was just good politics.

It worked for Wilson in the short term, but Republicans are irrelevant in California now – in part because the punching bags started punching back at the ballot box.

That counterpunch went national in November, with Obama netting 70 percent of votes from Latinos, who were turned off by the GOP's wedge politics.

Even now, some Republicans continue to play to a shrinking base by refusing to embrace immigration reform without enhancing enforcement on the border.

This is one of the great fallacies of the immigration debate.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C., the Obama administration spent nearly $18 billion on immigration enforcement last year.

Obama has deported more undocumented immigrants than any U.S. president.

In a story about the Migration Policy Institute, the New York Times wrote: "The two main immigration enforcement agencies have referred more cases to the courts for prosecution than all of the Justice Department's law enforcement agencies combined."

Border Patrol agents have doubled since 2004. Budgets for Immigration and Customs Enforcement have swelled nearly 90 percent since 2005. Detentions of immigrants is at an all-time high, and immigration flows from Latin America have slowed to a trickle.

My fellow Americans – don't buy the GOP hype.

We have strengthened the borders. We are treating "illegals" harshly, especially the drug dealers and rapists.

It's impossible to predict whether Obama can overcome the misinformation to successfully align our immigration systems with our labor needs.

But if he doesn't do it now – if the GOP preserves a broken system that denigrates people – the punching bags will settle this issue in every election for the foreseeable future until the GOP is as irrelevant in America as it is in California.

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