To Fight for Immigration Reform, Don't Show Up in the Last Round
They seemed almost embarrassed to acknowledge it. Yet one after another, the same immigrant rights leaders who encouraged us to vote for Barack Obama were telling us that the president had betrayed them — and all of us who believed that he would fix our broken immigration system.
At a Washington news conference last week, they finally took off their politically correct gloves and slapped the president around for failing to keep his promise to fight for comprehensive immigration reform.
It took them a long time. If they had started protesting this way last summer, perhaps they could have pressured the president and Congress to take up this controversial matter long before this year's midterm elections. Yet now that they are nearly out of time — in the last round — the pro-immigrant leaders finally have come out swinging.
They charged that Obama broke George W. Bush's deportation record, that the Obama administration "seems proud to out-enforce the Bush administration" and that many things Obama could have improved for undocumented immigrants — even without the consent of Congress — have actually worsened under his administration. They said that even in their wildest nightmares, they never imagined that Obama would deport more than 387,000 immigrants during his first year as president or that on any given day on Obama's watch, there would be 32,000 immigrants detained in U.S. prisons and awaiting deportation.
"These are the same enforcement practices that we marched against during the Bush administration," said Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
She and other members of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement called on Obama to halt immigration raids and deportations and to fight for a legalization plan for some 11 million undocumented immigrants. They called on all Americans to join them in a pro-immigration march in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, March 21, to pressure the president and Congress to come up with "concrete" immigration reform proposals immediately.
That was on Monday, March 8. Three days later, some of the same leaders actually met with the president and came out of the White House claiming that they were encouraged once again by Obama's alleged commitment to overhaul our immigration system. Really? On the same day they were meeting with the president, major raids against undocumented immigrants were being conducted in Maryland, as the Obama administration continues to beat Bush on Draconian policies that could be stopped by executive order.
Before meeting with pro-immigrant advocates Thursday, March 11, Obama also met with the two senators — Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. — who have been procrastinating artfully on the creation of a new "bipartisan" immigration reform bill.
And though the pro-immigrant advocates keep demanding to see a concrete proposal from the president and Congress before their March 21 demonstration, all we've gotten has been a statement in which Obama said he would "review" the "promising framework" drafted by the two senators.
Obviously, the Schumer-Graham bill is far from ready — and much farther from being introduced, approved by Congress and signed by Obama this year.
As opposed to the comprehensive immigration reform bill already introduced in the House — by Rep.
Surely Schumer, Graham and Obama are aware that such a measure would totally derail comprehensive immigration reform for months, if not years. Is that their objective? Can they be trusted at this point?
While the president was telling pro-immigrant advocates that he needs to rally the support of some Republicans in order to pass an immigration reform bill, Graham was issuing a statement saying that he told Obama "in no uncertain terms" that immigration reform "could come to a halt for the year" if Obama persisted on passing health care legislation by using the reconciliation method, which requires a 51-vote majority in the Senate instead of 60 votes. "Using reconciliation to push health care through will make it much harder for Congress to come together on a topic as important as immigration," Graham noted.
Of course, we all know that Obama is indeed "using reconciliation to push health care through." In fact, he is spending all his political capital to attain the 216 House votes needed to pass the health care bill this week — the same week when pro-immigrant advocates expect him to come up with "concrete" immigration proposals.
It's too late — and they know it! Everyone knows that the obstacles to immigration reform are insurmountable right now. Everyone knows that once health care is out of the way, the president and Congress have other huge priorities, such as job creation, waiting in line.
Yet they show up in the last round, while their opponent is still busy with another tough rival, and they expect Obama to fight for health care and immigration at the same time.
They stayed loyal to Obama and the Democratic Party for too long, and now they will go to Washington to pretend that they are the independent leaders they should have been since last summer.
I'm sorry. I wish this were truly a grass-roots effort to condemn Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress for betraying the immigrants they promised to help. Better yet, I wish it were still possible to pressure Democrats to "do the right thing" for immigrants this year. But this is all a farce.
The White House meetings with senators and advocates and even the demonstration on Sunday — it's all a show, make-believe, so that both the back-stabbing politicians and the betrayed pro-immigrant leaders can pretend that at least they tried.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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