Backdoor Amnesty or Lesson Learned?

By Miguel Perez

January 8, 2013 7 min read

Remember the time when Obama administration officials let it be known that things would get worse before they got better for undocumented immigrants? Remember how they justified their raids, border re-enforcements and record-breaking deportations? Remember that they were meant to convince Republicans who insisted on border security first before they would allegedly support a comprehensive reform bill that would finally fix our broken immigration system?

I recall that even some so-called immigrant rights activists shamefully went along with the administration's plans to increase deportations, offering thousands of immigrants as sacrificial lambs to feed the thirst of anti-immigrant zealots.

I also recall that this strategy was a miserable failure.

"It has become obvious that no amount of immigration enforcement would be enough to satisfy the thirst for deportations that drives the conservative (and most influential) wing of the Republican Party," I wrote in April of 2011. "Regardless, of how many fences Obama tries to build or how many immigrant families he separates, conservative extremists will keep moving the goalpost to the right, until they deport even Obama!"

And when this message finally got to the White House, when Obama finally saw that the sacrificial lamps also were killing his change of winning the Latino vote and reelection, remember how the president began to use the executive powers he had denied having, to finally help some undocumented immigrants?

Let's not forget Obama's executive orders — bypassing Congress and telling immigration officials to concentrate on deporting criminal immigrants and allowing young immigrant "Dreamers" to stay, study and work here legally. That's what turned the tide of Latino voters back for the president.

Had he not used those executive powers, and had Mitt Romney not "self-deported" from the Latino vote, perhaps we would be bracing ourselves for the impact of the draconian immigration measures of a Romney administration.

Yet even now that Obama was reelected thanks to the Latino vote in swing states, now that it took an election thrashing for some Republican politicians to learn the meaning of compassion, the immigration reform fight still is an uphill battle.

No one should expect the die-hard, anti-immigrant base of the Republican Party to stop looking for ways to disrupt, dilute and delay any form of immigration reform. It started during the lame-duck session, when some Republicans already introduced legislation that falls ridiculously short of the comprehensive immigration reform the country needs and voters want.

Unless we grant a path to legalization for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here, create better and wider avenues for legal immigration, and then get serious about illegal immigration enforcement, not only for border crossers but also for visa violators, we will never fix our broken immigration system.

At a time when passing a new Dream Act, granting a legal path only to young immigrants, shouldn't even be under consideration (because obviously they would be covered under a larger comprehensive legalization plan), some Republicans claim they are willing to support the watered-down version of the Dream Act, only for those who serve in the military.

Amazingly, in spite of Obama's record-breaking deportations (410,000 in 2012), in spite of a crackdown that has driven border arrests to its lowest level in nearly 40 years, some Republicans still claim the president has been soft on immigration. There are several states where Republicans still are driving draconian anti-immigrant legislation and claiming they are filling a void left by the federal government. And in Washington, some conservatives now are claiming Obama's executive orders are a form of "backdoor amnesty" that will only hinder the prospects for a compromise with Republicans — as if they actually knew how to compromise!

That's because last week — yes, even after the election — the Obama administration made yet another dramatic change in immigration enforcement. When the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a rule change that, "facilitates the legal immigration process and reduces the amount of time that U.S. citizens are separated from their immediate relatives who are in the process of obtaining an immigrant visa," she was talking only of about a million undocumented immigrants who are married to Americans and will no longer have to wait several years abroad to get their green cards.

Small fry, right? Yet many Republicans have problems with that. They refuse to go along with the front door legalization the rest of country is demanding, but they claim Obama is making things worse by granting 'backdoor amnesty."

I say it looks like Obama has learned his lesson and that he is no longer wiling to wait for Republicans while they keep moving the goalposts. In the State of the Union address, I expect the president to layout the immigration reform plan the country needs and Republicans still will oppose.

Ironically, although these are usually the same politicians who blast Obama's "out of control spending," now they are faced with a new study that found Obama spent more on immigration enforcement than on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute reported Monday that while the FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshal Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives cost a total of $14.4 billion in fiscal 2012, immigration enforcement cost $18 billion.

Who knows? If the election wasn't enough to convince conservative Republicans that real comprehensive immigration reform is absolutely necessary, perhaps the cost of being so draconian will help them change their minds.

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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