When the story of Barack Obama’s presidency is finally written, I hope biographers dedicate a few pages to the 44th president’s abysmal record on the issue that seems to have most baffled him: immigration.
Right off the bat, Obama put himself on impossible footing by trying to be simultaneously compassionate and tough. He wanted to please Latinos who identify with immigrants so much that they want to give the undocumented legal status, and also union members who are so afraid of competition that they would prefer to hand them a one-way ticket out of the country.
Ultimately, Obama took care of labor and settled for trying to fool Latinos into thinking he was in their corner. In reality, he was working against their interests by deporting a record number of people.
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In his first term, Obama wasted a lot of time and energy arguing with supporters who wanted him to stop deportations – or at least slow them down – and denying that he had the executive authority to act without Congress. In his second term, he miraculously found that power and gave so-called Dreamers – undocumented young people brought here as children – a two-year reprieve from deportations.
Obama went from soliciting Latino votes in the 2008 election by promising to tackle immigration reform in his first 100 days to never getting around to crafting a remedy for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. And he went from criticizing the George W. Bush administration for sending federal agents to arrest nursing mothers who were “torn from their babies” to essentially deputizing, through Secure Communities, thousands of local and state police officers to enforce federal immigration law by checking the immigration status of anyone with whom they came in contact.
In recent weeks, the same person who – in August 2010 – signed a $600 million border security bill proposed by Senate Democrats that put more agents, fencing and equipment on the U.S.-Mexico border expressed worry about his successor’s plan to build a border wall. It’s surreal to hear Obama and other Democrats express their indignation at the idea that people could be deported and families separated when, for the last eight years, this has been standard operating procedure for the Obama administration and the party that covered up for it.
There needs to be an honest and serious accounting of Obama’s cynical and cruel immigration record. And yet we can’t very well expect the media to provide it. They’re too busy scrutinizing the current president for threatening to do much of what the last one already did. At the same time, we have pro-Obama spinners who are trying to wipe his record clean and convince us all that the bad stuff never happened.
It happened, and it went like this. After winning election in 2008, Obama recruited as his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who, while he was in Congress, worked hard to keep immigration reform off the agenda. And he named as his first homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano who, as Arizona governor, declared a state of emergency on the border.
Once in office, Obama broke his vow to make immigration reform a priority, deported about 3 million people, divided hundreds of thousands of families, and put into foster care tens of thousands of U.S.-born children whose parents got deported. He also pushed back initially against those immigration reformers who asked that he use executive power to halt deportations, claimed falsely that his administration was only deporting criminals and then tried to pin the whole debacle on Republicans.
And when faced – in summer 2014 – with tens of thousands of women and child refugees from Central America streaming across the U.S.-Mexico border, Obama ordered most them deported without due process, jailed thousands of others including infants and toddlers who were put in what activists have come to refer to as “baby jails,” and released others into the custody of relatives in the United States – only to round them up two years later.
While all this was happening, the liberal media seemed not all that interested and said very little. It’s no wonder they’re so fired up now to go after President Donald Trump on his immigration crackdown. After a siesta that lasted eight long years, they’ve got to be well-rested.
Ruben Navarrette can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.