Obama Barks, Arizona Bites

obama immigration reform

Everyone is outraged by the new law in Arizona, SB1070, which allows local law enforcement officers to target brown people even more easily than they had before, during the glory days of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a beneficiary of the law that allowed this new law to exist, 287(g):

The Bush Administration granted the largest and most powerful 287(g) contract to Sheriff Arpaio, despite the fact that jails under his supervision cost his county over $43 million in death and abuse lawsuits. Arpaio is accused of housing prisoners in tents, making them appear before media TV cameras wearing pink underwear, shackling them in chain gangs, and trespassing into neighboring jurisdictions to unlawfully dump immigrants at the border for deportation. Traffic violators and day laborers are Arpaio’s main targets.

Even President Obama condemned the new Arizona law, and yet it is his own Administration’s ICE under the auspices of Homeland Security, that has paved the way for SB1070, an unjust law, to get on the books.

Under the Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano is expanding the 287(g) program.

Recent studies (warning, pdf) show this law doesn’t work as intended.

Even for those who are not following this issue, you must have heard more than once “we need comprehensive immigration reform!”

This is not some theoretical suggestion.  Until we have real legislation dealing with the 8-12 million undocumented workers in the US, real legislation strengthening our labor laws that have been shredded over the past decade, real legislation providing an actual “line to stand in” so that people actually can come here legally, unless we have comprehensive immigration reform, laws like SB1070 will continue to be brutally enforced.

Laws like 287(g), which the Obama Administration has embraced, allow SB1070 to  be enacted.

287(g) allows local law enforcement to do the job previously done only by federal agents who were trained in immigration law.

287(g) is what produces someone like Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

From David Bennion, over at Citizen Orange, in a post entitled Deporation by Obama’s ICE is the Bite Behind SB1070’s Bark:

Representatives Luis Gutierrez and Raul Grijalva understand that the Arizona GOP is the easy target for anger about Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law, SB1070, but not the most productive one. That would be President Obama, who remains mostly absent from the debate about immigration reform while his ICE foot soldiers carry out the deportation of each and every undocumented immigrant racially profiled by Arizona law enforcement.

While SB1070 has put immigration policy back in the national spotlight for the first time since 2007 and drawn the condemnation of President Obama, his Secure Communities initiative allows and encourages racial profiling to continue under the radar throughout the United States. Secure Communities facilitates information-sharing between ICE and local law enforcement in adopting jurisdictions whenever an arrest takes place, regardless of the nature of the crime or whether it ultimately results in a conviction. While all eyes are on Arizona, local police in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Bensalem, and all across the state of Pennsylvania are carrying out their campaign of quiet terror against the immigrant community. They continue to make race-based police stops, knowing that an arrest on any pretext can lead to deportation. Some don’t even bother to make arrests, illegally stopping drivers based on appearance and calling ICE directly. These types of abuses are happening throughout the country.

Nevertheless, SB1070 would make things much worse, giving Arizona law enforcement express permission to make race-based police stops, and giving nativist citizens the right to sue law enforcement agencies if they weren’t engaging in enough racial profiling. If President Obama truly opposes SB1070 and wishes to uphold Constitutional principles, there is a simple solution. He could instruct ICE, under established principles of prosecutorial discretion, to withhold prosecution of any individual turned over by Arizona law enforcement after SB1070 takes effect.  This would effectively gut the law, removing deportation as the expected consequence of an arrest by local law enforcement.

Does this remind you of anything?

It reminds me of DADT.

President Obama promised a lot to various groups of human beings whose human rights were being trampled upon by unjust laws and unjust enforcement of those unjust laws.

Every day he delays fulfilling those promises, people get hurt.

Just as the harms of DADT can be mitigated with an Executive Order until strong legislation can be passed, so can Obama order Janet Napolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security, to stop the egregious over-enforcement by ICE until strong comprehensive immigration reform is put in place.

I won’t hold my breath.  But when you hear folks praise President Obama for denouncing SB1070, keep in mind that there’s a lot he could have done for the Latino/a community to mitigate the great damage being done to our fellow human beings … and he hasn’t.

So people continue to suffer.

Keep that in mind when you hear over and over again, “We need comprehensive immigration reform!”


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  1. … I have heard, “oh, Obama can’t take legal shortcuts, he doesn’t have that power, it’s unethical,” etc., etc., etc.  I haven’t believed that since he personally fought against a court order demanding torture pictures be released.

    It’s all about politics.

  2. And the status quo is intolerable.

    The right can make hay over crime and drug wars, liberals can make hay over the right, and agribusiness continues agribusiness as usual.

    There is no moderate solution.  12 million people.  Too poor.  Mexico too dangerous.  Too much profit.

    Your point about a “real line to stand in” hits it on the head.  That has about as good a chance as Medicare for all.  And is just as necessary.

  3. Tania Unzueta of Chicago risks arrest in sit-in at Arizona Sen. John McCain’s office:

    A group of undocumented students, including Tania Unzueta from Chicago, are staging a sit-in Monday afternoon at Arizona Sen. John McCain’s office in Tuscon.

    They are challenging Congress to pass the DREAM Act which would create a pathway to legalization for undocumented youth who came here as minors and who complete two years of college or military service.

    That takes a lot of guts — but I’ve noticed that when these young folks protest and have the spotlight on them, somehow the “authorities” are too cowardly to arrest and deport them.

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