Barack Obama, after having “promised” immigration reform advocates that he would use his executive powers to effect some measure of long promise action on the issue, has now backed away from his pledge, claiming that the issue was now too fraught with partisan politics to follow through with. One wonders if he ever actually intended to do this in any case, since he announced the possibility back in June, uncomfortably close to the 2014 mid-term elections. Was he just playing games with the Latino vote again?
Obama claimed that the sudden influx of “unaccompanied children”—93 percent who are from Central America—this summer put a strain on voters’ “tolerance” of unilateral reform. However, I put the blame squarely on the media for failing to do its duty and report uncomfortable facts, such as the violence and oppression at work in these countries, and the U.S.’ role in shaping oppressive governments and institutionalizing poverty in the region in order to keep “friends” in power. Honduras, for example, became the infamous “Banana Republic” largely controlled by three U.S. fruit companies and local authorities on their payroll. When the enterprise no longer became profitable, these companies simply destroyed all of the infrastructure (such as railroad lines) they had built for their own “needs,” and left the country essentially barren and with few resources to rebuild its economy.
Immigration statistics reveal the full measure of policy hypocrisy and why the current “system” isn’t working. According to the Department of Homeland Security, an “estimated” 59 percent of undocumented workers are from Mexico, about an “estimated” 6.7 million in total. According to the Pew Foundation, 13 percent of the undocumented are of Asian origin (about 1.5 million) and 9 percent from Europe and Africa; but these groups receive little attention, and are much more likely to be given “refugee” and political asylum status. Since it costs money to deport these latter groups, the ICE does not target them.
Yet only 14 percent of those granted legal status are from Mexico—which is less than 2 percent of the total who are undocumented. Furthermore, 40 percent of those granted permanent residency are those born in Asia; those actually born in the Western Hemisphere comprise 32 percent of those receiving permanent residency. Legal permanent residents from Mexico and Central America also have the longest “wait period” of any other group to becoming naturalized citizens; African LPRs actually have the shortest wait period, half that of Hispanics.
Reading between the lines, it is clear that it is much harder for immigrants from Latin America to legally immigrate to this country than other groups, despite the demonstrable effects of U.S. policy on their countries, now and in the past. The pointless “war on drugs” has created a climate of non-stop violence in Mexico and Central America, and ingrained social stigmas attached to certain demographics has played into the U.S.’ historic opposition to “liberal” governments in the region.
The “controversial” elements of Obama’s potential moves to alleviate the strain that this state of affairs has caused include expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which would permit those who have resided in the country since they were children to remain in the country “indefinitely” on work permits if they meet the eligibility requirements, such as not having committed a crime (other than the “crime” of being in the country). Farm laborers could be protected from ICE raids that have hurt farmers, and expanding deportation “relief” for those who have resided in the country for decades.
These measures shouldn’t be particularly “controversial” at all, but never underestimate the Republicans need for a “hot” topic to inflame hate and prejudice as a political campaign weapon. They first predictably decried the president using his powers to overcome their intransigence, and are now bellyaching that he took it off the table until after the election, so that it would be somewhat difficult to bash him and the Democrats for something that may or may not happen. While a majority of Americans support some form of a path to legal status, one should not underestimate the affect that the level of hatred and racial (screw this “ethnicity” bovine scatology) bigotry has on timid politicians—let alone those who have their own dark corners of the mind to overcome.
Yet for all their rhetoric, one wonders whether Republicans prefer the “status quo”—meaning no reform (other than building more border fences), but looking crossways about allowing just enough undocumented workers in the country to satisfy their rural and business constituency, and every election year beat on “Mexicans” to rouse the rest of their constituency.
But for now, the truth and common sense are taking a backseat to partisan politics, paranoia and prejudice. How much longer will it go on? Immigration reform advocates have been asking that since 2006.