SAN DIEGO — When it comes to immigration, Democrats are masters of deception.
They cast blame on Republicans while pandering to blue-collar U.S. workers by deporting scores of illegal immigrants. They push reform just enough to tease Latinos but not so hard that they risk anything getting done. They maintain the charade that reform is still in play while arguing that the folks whom the administration bragged about deporting were not really deported.
The only person who could make sense of it is Omar Little, the fictional gunman in the HBO series “The Wire.” About the manipulations, machinations and madness of the immigration debate, Omar would merely shrug and say: “It’s all in the game.”
On the one hand, Obama continues to respond to accusations that he is the deporter in chief by repackaging himself as the champion in chief for immigration reform. The president who has often sidestepped Congress with executive orders insists that he can’t curb deportations unless Congress acts.
On the other hand, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to release in the next few weeks a memo outlining policies aimed at slowing deportations. DHS might even halt the deportations of those who fall into certain categories, such as the parents of U.S.-born children.
One minute, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York is telling Politico that if the Republican-controlled House adjourns in September without passing immigration reform, “the administration should stop deporting hardworking and law-abiding people who would be covered by the Senate bill.”
The next, according to BuzzFeed, a key member of Schumer’s staff recently clashed with the White House over the changes likely to be proposed by DHS. According to the article – which drew from two sources present at a meeting between Schumer aide Leon Fresco and Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council – Fresco expressed worry that making immigration policy more lenient would anger Republicans and doom immigration reform in Congress.
Reality checks all around.
First, Obama has really gone overboard in passing the buck to the Republicans. In March, at a town hall program sponsored by Univision, Telemundo and La Opinion-impreMedia, the president said: “At a certain point, the reason that the deportations are taking place is Congress said you have to enforce these laws.”
So now Obama is taking orders from Congress? On foreign policy, education policy and the economy, he goes his own way. But, on immigration, he defers to the legislative branch? Why not just admit that he doesn’t care what happens to illegal immigrants and that, in fact, judging from some of his comments, he thinks they hurt U.S. workers by lowering wages?
Second, who does Schumer think he’s fooling with his moderate makeover? Until a few years ago, he supported what was essentially an enforcement-only approach, even standing proudly with Obama in 2010 as the president signed a $600 million border enforcement bill that provided surveillance drones and additional Border Patrol agents. Schumer eventually voiced support for conferring legal status on the undocumented, even joining the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” to pound out a compromise.
But what emerged is two parts enforcement to one part legalization. The Senate bill offers more fencing, and a doubling of the Border Patrol to 40,000 agents. Meanwhile, according to analysts who have studied the legislation, only about half of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States would be eligible for legal status.
Third, you can bet that Fresco didn’t go rogue and that he speaks for his boss, Schumer, in expressing concern about any attempt by the White House to ease off the pedal in deportations. The senator is trying to have it both ways. The aide is worried about hurting the chances for immigration reform this year?
Give me a break. There is no chance that Congress will act on immigration this year, or anytime in the near future. Why doesn’t Fresco just say out loud what most astute observers of this debate have already figured out – that the only group that Democrats care about upsetting are blue-collar American workers who usually vote Democratic and oppose letting illegal immigrants stay in this country and compete for jobs?
Democrats specialize in sleight of hand, fueled by a concern for keeping up appearances.
It’s all in the game.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.