Thursday, March 25, 2010

Obama’s moral failure on immigration

From an op/ed in the Chicago Tribune:

I'm a community organizer. Last week, I did something I never thought would be possible. I met with the president of the United States in the West Wing of the White House.

President Barack Obama met for 75 minutes with 14 leaders from across the country to discuss immigration reform — and the destruction of some 1,100 immigrant families a day through deportations carried out by his administration.

The meeting was tense, blunt and passionate. And there was a racial irony to our discussion. Our labor, faith and immigrant rights leaders included seven Latinos, three Asians and four whites. We were meeting with our country's first African-American president, the son of an immigrant father. His senior advisers at the meeting included three African-Americans (one the child of immigrants), a Latina, a Chinese-American woman and a white woman.

There were years of intertwined friendships and relationships at the table, including my own with the president that began when he was a Chicago community organizer in 1986. Yet, despite all of these ties, we were there to tell him about his moral failure on immigration, and his looming political catastrophe.

Immigrant families are destroyed every day through deportations, Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy group, told Obama. Latinos are angry and feel betrayed that the Obama White House has increased deportations and hasn't advanced reform, which could result in a nightmare for Democrats in the fall elections.

The president was just as blunt. He said that he and 45 to 47 Democratic senators support immigration reform. The problem, he said, is the lack of Republican support. Obama said his administration is shifting the focus of deportation onto undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes. If Americans come to believe the government is serious about immigration enforcement, he said, they will support reform measures that allow undocumented immigrants to gain legal status here.

Obama's wrong. Immigration is hunting down teens, workers, mothers, not just criminals. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reports, President George W. Bush's second term began with 246,000 deportations a year. Under Obama, the number is closer to 400,000. The administration's lack of leadership on immigration reform and its increased deportations of non-criminals has created a toxic relationship with Latino immigrants.

The president agreed to call on Republican senators to join in a bipartisan push, but the administration's spin is still that Republicans will need to step up first if immigration reform is going to be passed. This sounds like blame-shifting.

The president is poisoning the well of political support he received from Latinos. And Republicans aren't lining up to stand next to him on immigration.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of marchers will be on the streets of Washington, D.C. We hope that this participatory democracy will cause Republicans and Democrats to focus on legislative solutions for immigration reform. We will continue to push Obama and other leaders such as Sen. Dick Durbin to have courage.

In the U.S., we change stupid and broken laws. That is why first lady Michelle Obama and women across the U.S. can vote. That is why President Obama and I can eat at the same lunch counters in the South.

A law that allows the destruction of 400,000 families a year is immoral. Obama needs to make an honest push for immigration reform and stop his administration's reign of terror against non-criminal undocumented immigrants.

Something is afoot in immigrant communities. In Chicago, courageous young immigrants are "coming out," publicly declaring that they are undocumented and unafraid of the consequences. If immigration legislation stalls, President Obama may provoke a new period of civil rights confrontations — aimed at him.

Joshua Hoyt is the executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

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