This past week President Obama, despite threats from Republicans, revealed his intention to use his executive powers to enact a limited variation of the long-delayed immigration “reform.” This is, after all, a nation of immigrants, and throughout this country’s history there always has been some particular group that has aroused grumbling from the self-styled “natives.” His “strategy” of delaying action on the issue to “protect” vulnerable Democrats in the Senate proved a costly failure, and in at least three states—Florida, Texas and Colorado—it appears to have cost Democratic candidates enough lost votes among Latinos to make the difference in several key elections.
Republicans are threatening dire consequences, but I think that most people will support or be indifferent to Obama’s action—not the proposals specifically, but as a means of forcing movement on the part of Congress, especially the recalcitrant House led by the weak-willed John Boehner. For certain the Republican’s racist and nativist constituency will cry bloody murder, but they are a fringe minority who deserve to be ignored. Most people are tired of the issue being used by Republicans as a propaganda tool every election to inspire hate.
While there has been some talk of how Republicans in Texas and Colorado managed to sway a sizable minority of Latino voters, this was only because the candidate avoided inflaming that segment by speaking of their position on immigration and the other instruments that inspire hate among the white electorate, while at least in Colorado the incumbent Democratic Senate candidate, Mark Udall, refused—out of apparent fear of alienating certain white voters—to use the Republicans stand on immigration against them.
The proposals that Obama unveiled in his speech this past week offers a patronizing deal for immigrants who “play by the rules,” and it isn’t much of a “deal.” Those who have lived in the country for at least five years and have not committed any crimes (other than being in the country) can come out of the “shadows” and expose themselves by registering, pass a criminal background check, and are “willing to pay your fair share of the taxes,” you can apply for “temporary” status. That’s all. “All we're saying is we're not going to deport you.” At least not right away.
Unfortunately, Obama used language that is part of the hate propaganda and perpetuates many falsehoods—the biggest that undocumented workers don’t pay taxes. Outside of street corner day laborers, all who work pay payroll taxes—including Social Security taxes, regardless if they are eligible for Social Security in the future or not. Even in states that do not have income taxes but sales taxes, undocumented workers pay the same taxes as everyone else does, without being eligible for all of the benefits that derive from it.
Obama also implied than many of them are criminals—again a Republican propaganda tool without citing actual numbers or crime rates. Yet while these people are often doing jobs that are hard to fill because no one wants to do them, Obama proposes to take high-paying tech jobs away from “real” Americans and give them to immigrants from Asia. Apparently businesses like Microsoft want them because they don’t cost as much, and they want the jobs because it is still better than what they are receiving in their home countries.
Obama touts about the only thing that has been done on immigration “reform”—engaging in the kind of mass deportations not seen since “Operation Wetback” in the 1950s, obviously angering many Latino activists. Obama went on to show a lack of knowledge of historical context, of how the U.S. has used undocumented workers for both labor and political propaganda tools throughout its history. This cross traffic has been going ever since the U.S. “bought” California and the Southwest from Mexico, when there already was a population of Mexicans present, and most chose to stay. The fact that many cities in this region have Spanish names is testimony to the fact of the Mexican presence.
Obama also failed to mention that another reason why there is so much indifference to immigration “rules” is that there is a clear bias in immigration standards, and it is considerably more difficult for Latin Americans (save for Cubans) to legally immigrate to this country than for any other demographic. That more than anything else is the reason why the “system” is “broken.”
Yet Republicans are up in arms over these weak proposals. Obama could have said nothing at all and accomplished more; all he did was “promise” to expose hardworking, law-abiding undocumented workers to easier deportation if his “plan” is shot down. I wonder how many will actually take him up on his “offer.” The only “positive” I can see is if, as noted earlier, that this instills a public “debate” on the lack of movement on immigration reform by the Republicans.
The more I look into this, the more I see as it as some kind of jest in poor taste. What is really needed is a common sense program that recognizes the reality of immigrant labor and makes it easier—not harder, for immigrant workers to legally work in the country without fear of ICE harassment; if employers were not hamstrung in hiring even seasonal workers because of immigration rules that have no sense of reality but play into the public’s paranoia, immigrant workers would feel more “free” to leave if there was no work.
Obama’s proposal admittedly is limited by what his executive authority allows, but he ignores the true failings of U.S. immigration policy—that is deliberately biased against Latin Americans, and instead uses the propaganda of prejudice he claims to oppose when used by Republicans. This is extremely unfortunate, and does nothing to further reform. The Republicans could do little worse, besides what they are doing now, which is nothing.