Protesters marched in front of the White House in an effort to keep raising awareness about the deportation of illegal immigrants. Chanting “Not One More,” protesters held up handmade signs painted with President Obama’s face and the words “Deporter in Chief. 2 Millones,” a reference to an estimated two million immigrants deported under the Obama administration. But with immigration reform shelved and no sign of anything on the horizon, Obama continues to be in a situation he can not win.
Pennsylvania Avenue was not the only place with marchers in the streets. Over 40 separate rallies were held around the country, organized by the National Day Labor Organizing Network, and timed to coincide with the estimated millstone of two million deportations.
Perhaps most surprising, for a perceived liberal president who has counted on Hispanic support since before taking office, under Obama’s watch more people are being deported than in any other administration. Money allocated for enforcement has continued its twenty year rise, and a study by the Migration Policy Institute found the US was spending more money defending the borders and rounding up immigrants in the interior than the country was spending on all major federal law enforcement agencies combined.
Yet Obama will always be considered soft on immigration by Republicans. No Democratic president seems to escape that label. Obama’s deportation numbers, certainly championed if Bush were still in office, are ignored in favor of acrimonious fighting over no-compromise reform edicts and finger-pointing over a terrible Fast and Furious program. When Obama announced he would ease automatic deportations for immigrants with petty crimes, Republicans stamped their feet, yet enforcement dollars and personnel being finite, Obama, like every other president, had to make hard choices.
Hard choices are all the president faces, and he can not win for trying. Nobody will be satisfied, no matter how many people are deported, no matter how many ways Obama tries to show he is working to reform the system.
More to the point, Obama’s promise to stop deporting illegals with petty crimes on their record. The president said the government would go after gang-bangers and hard criminals, not types like students or day-to-day workers. Yet analysis of government records shows hundreds of thousands deported with only minor violations, including traffic tickets, or no record of any violations at all.
Meanwhile the pressure mounts from Hispanic groups. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus will release a memo on April 9th asking the president to skip the legislature and directly order the easing of deportations among certain groups. White House legal is unsure whether the Obama can or not, but since any action by the White House to make proactive changes will blow any chance of meaningful dialogue between the two parties to reform laws, nothing will happen and nobody will be happy.
It is not like Obama is the only president to find himself in this predicament. In 2007 Bush tried to pass an immigration reform act that would have granted a path towards citizenship for millions, while also approving 20,000 additional border patrol agents. His act died in the Senate. And Ronald Reagan, beloved as he is, will never shake the legacy among Republicans for his amnesty efforts.
For a conciliatory personality as Obama seems to have, this all must be among the very worst aspects of the job. Undoubtedly, all presidents learn quickly that life has just become full of decisions that will please absolutely no one. But one of Obama’s top promises, as an optimistic Senator, was true immigration reform, and he is not going to get it. He can give concessions to one side or another in the hope someone might give him credit, but that is probably not going to happen either. As people show up in the streets to wave banners and call Obama out on his two million deportations, he surely knows he can not win.
Opinion by Andrew Elfenbein
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