Viewpoints

Democrats take advantage when Republicans trip over immigration

SAN DIEGO -- In their treatment of immigrants and refugees, Republicans are really bad. But this doesn’t mean Democrats have been any better.

The Obama administration was never all that good at dealing with newcomers. And often, it was terrible.

 
Opinion

Just how terrible became clear last week thanks to a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union -- which was often missing in action while President Obama was in office but now seems to have awakened from its siesta.

The report alleged that many unaccompanied minors from Central America who crossed the U.S.-Mexican border between 2009 and 2014 -- that is, during the Obama administration -- were repeatedly beaten, sexually abused, stunned by Tasers, deprived of food and medicine and threatened with rape or death by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. Complaints were filed with the Department of Homeland Security, but they were largely dismissed.

When it comes to immigrants and refugees, the party of Barack Obama must not get a pass on everything it has ever done wrong -- just because the party of Donald Trump can’t do anything right.

In one of the latest examples of Trump’s undeniable hatred for Latinos, The Washington Post described an Oval Office meeting last year in which Trump reportedly described hypothetical rapists and murderers with made-up Latino names.

You can see why Latinos look more favorably on Democrats. That party’s Latino outreach material writes itself: “Vote Democrat. We’re not Republicans.”

But politics isn’t like a rewards program where the more loyal you are to a hotel chain, the better you’re treated. With political parties, those who are loyal are often not treated very well.

I say as much whenever a group asks me to speak about the politics that drive the immigration debate.

“Don’t you think you were a bit too hard on Democrats?” a woman asked after a recent speech to a community group.

I told her I didn’t think so, explaining that I routinely criticize both parties for their treatment of immigrants.

Still, I decided to take inventory of what Democrats have done -- and have failed to do -- on immigration since 1986, which marks the last time that Congress passed real immigration reform.

In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) gave amnesty to more than 3 million people. Written by Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, the bill was opposed by dozens of Democrats who seemed to be taking orders from labor unions, which worried legalized immigrants would compete against U.S. workers.

In 1994, President Clinton militarized the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego with Operation Gatekeeper, which funneled immigrants through Arizona, where many died in the desert.

In 1996, according to documents from the Clinton Library, Clinton adviser Rahm Emanuel came up with a cynical plan to keep Democrats from being portrayed by the GOP as soft on crime: Increase deportations of illegal immigrants.

Also in 1996, Clinton signed into law the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, a wrongheaded piece of restrictionist legislation that made it easier to deport people and harder for them to return.

In 2005, Emanuel -- then a congressman from Chicago -- encouraged vulnerable Democrats to support a harsh GOP-sponsored immigration bill, according to Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. At the time, a spokesman for Emanuel denied the accusation.

In 2007, Emanuel -- who was, by then, a top lieutenant to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that immigration reform would not be on the Democratic agenda because it was the “third rail” of American politics.

Also in 2007, then-Sen. Obama supported “poison pill” amendments in order to weaken guest-worker provisions in a Senate immigration bill, drive away Republican support and kill the measure.

In 2010, with Democrats controlling the Senate, five of them -- Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska -- voted against cloture and essentially killed the Dream Act.

In 2017, President Obama -- having broken his promise to deliver immigration reform -- left office after deporting more than 3 million people, dividing scores of families and placing thousands of abandoned U.S.-born children in foster care. Obama did launch DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which enticed Dreamers to turn themselves in to authorities in exchange for having their deportation deferred for two years.

All the while, Latinos made excuses for Democrats who disappointed and betrayed them. After all, they said, Democrats are the lesser of two evils.

Funny thing about the lesser evil. It is still, well, you know.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

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