SAN DIEGO — Barack Obama’s apologists are once again tackling the immigration debate by powering up the fog machine.
This month, they’re trying to divert attention from the fact that the administration will soon rack up its two millionth deportation. This dubious milestone comes courtesy of a president who shamelessly pandered to Latinos by promising to fix the immigration system but turned out to be more skilled at removing the undocumented than he was in finding a way for them to stay and continue to contribute to the United States.
Obama is also good at creating spin, shifting blame and talking down to critics. According to media reports, all three of these things were in evidence last week during a hastily called meeting between Obama and 17 labor and immigration reform advocates. In most cases, make that people who pretend to be “immigration reform advocates.” The real advocates are the folks who will never get invited to those meetings because they’ve criticized the president or can’t be controlled.
One exception was Janet Murguia, the president of the National Council of La Raza, who has said precious little about deportations in the past five years. She was invited despite the fact that she recently called Obama the “deporter in chief.” The president bristled at that characterization, so much so that he went out of his way to refer to himself during a town hall sponsored by Spanish-language media as the “champion in chief” on immigration reform.
Is it April Fool’s Day already?
The White House gathering was described by those who attended as “sometimes tense but mostly cordial,” but the president was characterized as dismissive of participants. One advocate told the Huffington Post: “It had the feel of him schooling us, but it didn’t have the feel of him listening to us.”
If true, it’s not surprising. For Obama, the meeting had three purposes: to re-establish the narrative that the Republicans are to blame for everything that is unpleasant in the immigration mess including the record numbers of deportations carried out by the executive branch; to push back against critics and reassert control over his supporters; and to derail a resolution condemning the deportations that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus was getting ready to pass but ultimately tabled.
How petty can you get?
Obama deserves to be challenged. He has flunked Immigration 101. For the sake of political convenience, and in a misguided attempt to help working-class Americans who feel that they can’t keep up with illegal immigrants, Obama has used the heavy club of a hugely powerful government agency that was designed – after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – to fight terrorists and protect the homeland. Caught in the dragnet are many individuals who, under previous administrations, would not have been deported because authorities would have used their discretion and common sense to prevent it. Until Obama came along, we didn’t see women selling tamales outside of big-box stores hauled off in handcuffs by federal agents.
This sort of thing is supposed to make us a better country? How many tamale vendors have to be deported before America is safe?
The reality of heavy-handed immigration enforcement under Obama is so bleak that it is no wonder the president and his defenders would much rather live in the land of fairy tales. Champion in chief, indeed.
Meanwhile, two senior administration officials – Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser, and Cecilia Munoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council – are in high dudgeon as they try to protect Obama’s image as a progressive. The tag-team spreads misinformation to advocacy groups and the media. Like the whopper the president was trying to sell at the White House meeting: It’s all the Republicans’ fault. Democrats might control the White House and the Senate, but Republicans control the House of Representatives. The GOP provides the resources that allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement to operate, and so Republicans are to blame for who gets deported.
This might make some sense if the Obama administration had not just submitted a budget request for another $2.6 billion for the “enforcement and removal” of illegal immigrants. Can you hear the president calling out to Republicans from the Oval Office? “Stop me before I deport again!”
When it comes to immigration, President Obama is in the protection business. What he is protecting is the narrative that he has done nothing wrong. It’s a line that is getting harder and harder to sell.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at email@example.com.