One of the great promises of the Obama Administration was immigration reform — something that the Democrats clearly want to push to retain the Latino vote, but also hopefully because it’s the right thing to do. The United States contains huge numbers of undocumented immigrants living in constant fear who are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and aggressive law enforcement persecution, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s no reason to bar the vast majority of people (except possibly Donald Trump, who unfortunately retains citizenship rights) from entering the United States, and making it difficult just increases the number of people living on the margins who take terrible risks to enter the country and stay here. We can see that draconian immigration policy doesn’t work.
Yet, as with Guantanamo, the administration really failed miserably on the immigration front and if anything made it worse. The Democrats have made much of DREAM, which rewards ‘the right kind’ of immigrants in the popular imagination — minors who entered the country as youths, may not even be aware they’re undocumented, who are pursuing higher education and other bootstrapping opportunities. The DREAM Act wasn’t for the 45-year-old worker in the meatpacking plant, the young mother picking tomatoes in the fields of Florida, the housekeeper cornered in the laundry room and assaulted by her supervisor, the painter fighting wage theft, the trafficked woman serving effectively as a household slave. It’s for people ‘of good moral character,’ those who embody certain ideals. It is not, in other words, real immigration reform, except for the handful of people now protected by it.
Instead, the Obama Administration consistently orders and backs mass detention and deportations, often without due process. Undocumented immigrants are not subject to the same rule of law as citizens. They can be detained indefinitely while their cases crawl through immigration courts, and many can’t reach out to friends and family for help because they don’t want to expose other people to the risk of detention and possible deportation. Some are actually in the country under legal documentation or are even citizens, but they’re swept up in mass, dehumanising roundups anyway — ICE pulls buses up to manufacturing plants or ranches or other settings and loads people up like cattle.
The Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, and other agencies claim this is necessary for security reasons. They argue that more people are near the border, and attempting to cross it, than ever before. They’re not talking about people from Western countries visiting the country and overstaying their visas. They’re primarily talking about South and Central American people who are often fleeing violence and poverty — some of which we created — and seeking refuge in a country they think will offer opportunities for them and their families. And they’re talking about refugees from the Middle East — another region that’s unstable because of our activities in the area.
Over eight years, we’ve seen consistent failings on immigration policy. This is the president’s ‘lame duck’ year and the administration claims that it won’t slip under the waters of history this year, that it will continue pursuing aggressive policy changes and more opportunities for people in the US. The administration has indeed achieved huge victories in the last seven years, and that’s great, but immigration is a huge unfulfilled promise — unless DREAM was as far as the Democrats wanted to go, and the lives of the people currently being exploited and dehumanised in the US just don’t matter, which, it seems, is the case.
This is a huge human rights issue and the United States should be deeply ashamed. From a cold political perspective, though, it’s also an issue. Latino voters are a huge voting block, and many organise to vote on policy and candidates together. Candidates who show a repeated problem when it comes to recognising problems with current immigration policy and fixing them aren’t going to be popular, and while alternatives on the Republican side aren’t very appealing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Democrats get the vote automatically, which is the assumption they’re currently coasting on — but lesser of two evils politics is not a good idea. The Democrats should want people to vote for them because they’re the party of change and inclusion, not because they’re marginally better than the other guys.
I was really hoping to see immigration reform, real reform, from the White House during the Obama presidency. In many ways, the president defied my expectations on many issues, because I didn’t think he’d be able to make good on his promises once in office thanks to Congress, the forces of racism, and other pressures. But he’s managed to accomplish a huge amount, both directly and though various agencies. This, however, seems to be a bit of a brass ring, and maybe they’re not reaching because they don’t care about it, or maybe they think the game is rigged and they’ll never be able to grab it, but either way, the costs are the same for the people across the US who live in danger every day due to our abusive immigration policy.
I’m tired of claims that there’s not enough room, that immigrants will be a drain on the system, that they pose some kind of security risk. Fundamentally the complaints about immigrants boil down to a distaste for people who look different, and that’s not in keeping with what the US claims to stand for, and our immigration policy is discriminatory and wrong. Let’s see an end to deportations and a change for all immigrants to come out from the shadows to claim their destinies.
Image: Chicago Immigration Protest, Joseph Voves, Flickr