Commentary: Through the immigration looking glass in the U.S.
SAN DIEGO — With many issues, the more you study them, the more likely you are to understand them. But with the immigration debate, the closer you follow it, the more likely you are to go stark raving mad.
This probably suits the Obama administration just fine. At this point, it’s obvious that the main objective at the White House isn’t to solve the immigration problem. Instead, the primary mission of top administration officials such as Valerie Jarrett, senior White House adviser, and Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, is to protect the president’s legacy by deflecting criticism, muddying the waters and confusing detractors.
It makes sense. Once you deport 2 million people in five years, and heartlessly divide hundreds of thousands of families, the only thing left to do is to cover your tracks before someone builds a “deportation wing” in your presidential library.
But rather than let the administration and its supporters rewrite history, let’s be clear about a few things.
First, President Obama obviously never meant what he said when he declared his support for giving the undocumented a path to citizenship. If he had, Obama would not have named Rahm Emanuel, who helped stall immigration reform while serving in Congress, as his first chief of staff and put Janet Napolitano, a former Arizona governor who once declared a “state of emergency” on the border, in charge of the Homeland Security Department.
Next, it certainly isn’t true — in a hackneyed line that you hear from Obama apologists — that the president deported all those people just to please Republicans. As you watch Obama deal with other issues such as revamping health care and raising the minimum wage, does he strike you as someone with a burning desire to please the opposition?
Finally, Obama was always out to placate only one group: the blue-collar restrictionist wing of the Democratic Party, which believes that illegal immigrants are bad for U.S. workers. Mission accomplished.
The administration’s latest smokescreen is especially cynical because White House spinners borrowed it from the GOP.
For the last couple of years, Republicans such as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas have insisted that the Obama administration is inflating deportation figures by basing them largely on those individuals who were apprehended near the border as opposed to those who live in the interior.
Republicans push this line because they can’t figure out why, even with all the recent deportations, there are still so many illegal immigrants in this country.
Really? It’s not brain surgery. As long as American employers keep hiring these folks, America will always have an ample supply of illegal immigrants.
Now Obama apologists are advancing the same line to the media in a feeble attempt to make the administration seem more compassionate. It is assumed that illegal immigrants living in “the interior” would be more deeply rooted in society and so their removal would be much more disruptive and painful. Latinos will forgive a great deal of neglect and mistreatment by a Democratic president, but they draw the line at separating families. So Obama administration officials have been quoted as saying that the majority of those deported are those with criminal records or young men who have not put down roots in this country — loners without families who are picked up within hours of crossing the border.
There is only one problem with this narrative, no matter where it is coming from: It doesn’t make sense in the real world. “Near the border” is defined as within 100 miles of the international boundary. It turns out that this is not so near.
I happen to live within that range. A few years ago, a woman who cleans homes in my neighborhood was apprehended after the driver of the car in which she was riding was pulled over by a local policeman for rolling past a stop sign. The officer called the Border Patrol to the scene, and the housekeeper was arrested, processed and bused to Mexico. Her three children remained in this country with their father. All this happened within 100 miles of the border. Agents of the U.S. government took custody of that woman and physically relocated her to a foreign country. So much for the lone-male argument the administration is pushing.
If that’s not a deportation, then the world has gone crazy — which, in the immigration debate, is par for the course.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.