SAN DIEGO — If Americans want to fix the immigration system, the first thing they need to do is cut through the fog of lies, contradictions and partisan spin that make it hard to see what is really going on.
Then they’ll understand who is really to blame for the fact that we don’t have comprehensive immigration reform and the adjoining fact that a record number of illegal immigrants – nearly 2 million – have been deported, and thousands of families divided, in the past five years.
The Framers divided the government into three branches – and gave the executive branch the power to enforce the law, including immigration law. So it follows that President Obama and his administration are responsible for dividing all those families, and deporting all those people.
Still, it won’t be easy to clear the air because the media, self-serving advocacy groups and the White House are all busy operating fog machines.
The good news is that, now and then, a stiff breeze blows in, and the fog lifts – if only temporarily.
It happened in September when seven undocumented immigrants, working with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, were arrested outside the White House for protesting the administration’s immigration policies. Pablo Alvarado, the organization’s executive director, issued a statement warning that by deporting more than 1,100 people a day, Obama was in the process of “cementing his legacy as having presided over the most anti-immigrant administration in history.”
It happened again just a few weeks ago, when Ju Hong, an undocumented student from South Korea who graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in political science, confronted Obama. The president had gone to the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco to talk about the immigration stalemate in Congress and put the blame entirely on Republicans. Hong pleaded with Obama to use executive power to stop deportations and the dividing of families, which Obama insisted he couldn’t do “without passing laws in Congress.”
You can’t act like an all-powerful chief executive when it comes to loosening a health care law that has been passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court to allow people to keep their insurance policies and then, when confronted with the sticky wicket of immigration, cast yourself as powerless.
People will see through that – especially those with good memories. On Oct. 26, 2011, at the University of Colorado-Denver, Obama said this about his plans to exercise executive power on a variety of policy issues ranging from easing student loan debt to preventing foreclosures:
“We’re not going to wait for Congress. I’m going to act with or without Congress. Where they won’t act, I will, through a series of executive orders.”
Except, it seems, when it comes to immigration.
One thing that Obama managed to do without Congress was remove record numbers of illegal immigrants. During the first term, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would march up to Capitol Hill and brag to congressional committees about how her department was – with startling efficiency – removing about 400,000 illegal immigrants every year. Then she would promise to do even better the next year. Napolitano had three tools at her disposal – monthly quotas to pressure Immigration and Customs Enforcement to remove a set number of illegal immigrants, a crackdown on the discretion that federal agents and federal prosecutors have traditionally had to allow some illegal immigrants to remain in the country, and enlisting of hundreds of thousands of local and state law enforcement personnel to act as surrogate immigration agents through a controversial program known as Secure Communities.
Napolitano has since left the federal government, but the three tools are still at the administration’s disposal. Obama could change that, although he chooses not to. He could also expand the scope of the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows undocumented young people to stay in the United States and gives them a two-year work permit, but again he chooses not to.
Instead, the president has tried to run away from his own record. Democrats control half of Congress and yet, according to Obama, Republicans deserve 100 percent of the blame for not giving the undocumented a path to citizenship to protect them from being deported by, well, Obama.
Now you see why the president and his apologists need to generate fog. It covers up the reality, which isn’t very pleasant to look at.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at email@example.com.