The Obama Administration's announcement that it would review, on a case-by-case basis, the approximately 300,000 pending deportation cases in immigration courts to weed-out non-criminal immigrants and focus on deporting felons was greeted with both high praise and wild alarm.
A wave of celebration broke out yesterday among undocumented kids and their supporters as the relentless Federal deportation campaign has seemingly been stopped.
Meanwhile, anti-immigrant groups, coming off their successes at enacting racist, anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, Georgia and Alabama, proclaimed the end of the Republic.
They're both wrong in their respective celebrations and lamentations.
For the Dreamers, the national group of star students, brought to the United States as undocumented children, now seeking to fully join American society through service in the armed forces or by attending college, this new policy feels like a tremendous relief. For these accomplished young people, deportation is much less of a threat.
Similarly, undocumented immigrants without any criminal record will not be targeted for deportation. The Department of Homeland Security will focus its deportation resources on real threats to America - criminals, drunk drivers and other miscreants.
The anti-immigrant lobby was predictably outraged. FAIR, a prominent organization founded by White supremacist John Tanton, who continues to serve on the organization's board of advisers, had an attack of apoplexy.
Dan Stein, president of FAIR, stated in a scathing press release that
"...[T]]oday's policy announcement clearly demonstrates the Obama administration's defiance of both the constitutional separation of powers and the will of the American public in its relentless effort to gain amnesty for illegal aliens..."
..."From the outset, the administration has refused to enforce many immigration laws, essentially placing its own political agenda ahead of its constitutional responsibilities to carry out laws enacted by Congress. It has also acted aggressively to prevent state governments from implementing laws aimed at discouraging illegal immigration, including filing lawsuits against Arizona and Alabama.
"Supporters of comprehensive and targeted amnesties for illegal aliens have consistently failed to win approval by Congress or gain support from the American public," Stein noted. "Having failed in the legislative process, the Obama administration has simply decided to usurp Congress's constitutional authority and implement an amnesty program for millions of illegal aliens...."
FAIR is quite liberal with the truth, if not its politics. In fact the Obama Administration has far outpaced the Bush Administration in its enforcement of immigration law - more than doubling the number of people deported .
According to the Associated Press:
"...The U.S. deported nearly 393,000 people in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, half of whom were considered criminals. Of those, 27,635 had been arrested for drunken driving, more than double the 10,851 deported after drunken driving arrests in 2008, the last full year of the Bush administration, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data provided to The Associated Press.
"An additional 13,028 were deported last year after being arrested on less serious traffic law violations, nearly three times the 4,527 traffic offenders deported two years earlier, according to the data..."
Moreover, there's wide popular support for immigration reform in the country. Contrary to FAIR's contention that immigration reform does not have "support from the American public," in a Pew Center poll published in February of this year, 64% of Americans supported some combination of effective enforcement of immigration laws and a path to citizenship for immigrants already in the country.
That is of course the position of the Obama Administration. Rigorous enforcement of existing law while looking for a path towards comprehensive immigration reform that serves the strategic needs of the nation while being true to American values.
So what's new here?
According to a White House source I emailed to clarify the full impact of this announcement, this "new" policy represents:
"no change, our exercise of discretion is and always has been limited to case by case. The President can't say he will stop enforcing the law for any category of people. This announcement is one more step on a case by case basis, along the lines of the improvements we have been making over the last two years. Some reports were wrong and said any non criminal would not be deported, that would be categorical and is not what the change does. Each decision will be made individually and some without criminal records, for example those caught at the border, will continue to be deported."
White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Muñoz, speaking on my radio show just days before this announcement, had the same message. The Administration, Ms Muñoz said, continued to enforce current law even as it sought to distinguish between decent people, like the Dreamers, and threats to society, like gang members, so as to effectively channel finite enforcement resources at the Department of Homeland Security.
So why is FAIR and their brethren in the anti-immigrant movement convulsing over this news? By fully articulating a qualitative difference among undocumented people - the differences between Dreamers and felons, for example - the Administration undermines the anti-immigrant lobby's effort to dehumanize all immigrants by casting them as "illegals," an adjective turned into a noun dripping with moral disdain and social opprobrium.
Dehumanization has been an effective strategy of hate groups across history seeking to ostracize a minority for one reason or another. A recent New York Times profile of FAIR founder John Tanton is quite an elucidating insight into one man's obsession with "racial purity". Mr. Tanton and his collaborators channeled their eugenics fantasies into a national platform for political advocacy and catalysts of racist laws like Arizona's SB-1070, and its equally ugly cousins in Alabama and Georgia.
But John Tanton and his racially-pure friends in the anti-immigrant movement should not freak out. While the Administration's policy rationalizes how existing law is enforced, it does not address the fundamental issue of dealing with an immigration system that has failed America.
The White House's Ms Muñoz was very clear - Congress needs to act in order for America to have a modern, effective immigration system that deals not only with the current fiasco of 11 million undocumented people, but also addresses the long-term strategic needs of the United States.
And that's why FAIR and other similar organizations are betting that a Republican controlled House of Representatives, and, they hope, a new President in the White House elected by anti-immigration supporters next year, will allow it to reach one of it's primary goals of achieving a "...moratorium on all immigration except spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and a limited number of refugees ...".
For the 64% of Americans who Pew identified as wanting a sensible solution to the immigration crisis, including a path towards citizenship for people currently in the country, the Administration's action is not the answer.
Comprehensive immigration reform, enacted by Congress and signed into law by the President, is the only real path to end our national immigration nightmare.