President Obama on Immigration Reform

President Obama’s speech on July 1, 2010 on Comprehensive Immigration Reform was an eloquent description of the need for reform; the importance immigration has played in the development of the nation; and the need, both economic and moral, to fix a flawed system that breeds injustice and intolerance.

The President’s statement that “the political and mathematical reality” will require bipartisan support to pass immigration reform is true. Republicans that once tried to cater to Latino voters have rejected that effort for years to come by choosing to cater to the most racist section of their political base. The best example of this are Arizona’s Republican governor and state legislature which have passed a series of racist, anti-immigrant laws that legalize racial profiling, strip ethnic studies from the school curriculum, and may potentially pass another unconstitutional law that strips US citizen children of their citizenship if their parents are undocumented.

However, if the President does indeed want to re-establish the trust that Latino voters placed in him and the Democratic majority they helped elect in 2006 and 2008 then the President must address the state sponsored terror his own Administration has continued to perpetuate-indeed escalate-at the hands of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE) .

Arizona is not happening in a vacuum. President Obama as a candidate criticized “enforcement only” policies under the Bush Administration and promised “smart enforcement” under his Administration. Limited enforcement resources would be used to target individuals who were a danger to the community and immigration reform was to be a high priority his first year in office. But the Obama Administration has only escalated the deportations of non-criminals leading to increased violations of civil rights, labor rights, and human rights of the immigrant and Latino community as a whole.

Why is Arizona out of control? Because Sheriff Arpaio from Maricopa County, who is under investigation for over 2,000 civil rights violations in the State of Arizona is unaccountable to federal authorities. Arpaio thumbs his nose at the federal government and is continuing to conduct illegal arrests, detentions, and deportations even though he was partially stripped of his 287g authority that allows law enforcement to act as immigration. He is a bigot and a bully, a modern day Bull O’Connor who conducts street round ups of Latinos (even before the July 29th deadline) and then sorts out who’s undocumented and whose not; while ignoring warrants of serious criminals who have committed felonies. It is an outrage for President Obama to claim that Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano is improving our enforcement policy in the absence of changes in our immigration laws and that “we’ve improved accountability and safety in the detention system.” That’s untrue. Numerous studies of the current detention system and expanded programs between police and ICE, such as 287g, show a clear record that DHS is unaccountable and has led to increases of racial profiling, detainee abuse and death, and increased deportations of non-criminal offenders.

The President’s idea that immigration reform is going to happen in a neat three step dance: secure our borders, employer verification systems, and finally immigration reform, is ridiculous. These policies have only undermined the civil and labor rights of workers and labor unions, and unleashed the kind of racist fervor that President Obama decries.

So what is the answer? Latinos must be informed voters to ensure that good people get elected. The choices in present and future elections should not be between bad and worse. The immigrant rights movement, like other social justice movements, must support progressives for office and must act on our own behalf.

The recent decision by the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice to challenge the Arizona law is an important step in the right direction. But, it is also a credit to the movement from below to challenge unjust laws. To maintain the momentum in the right direction will require as President Obama himself stated “a movement at my back to pass the kind of changes we would like to see.”

This post is also available in: Spanish