Was there a DREAM versus Secure Communities Immigration Deal?

CeciliaMunozBuenos Aires        I want to share how exciting it was to be with the organizing committee in the Isidor Casanova district of the mega-slum, La Matanza, yesterday as they planned their first major campaign to clean up the fouled, garbage laden dump that their river has become, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.  Working with these Uruguayan immigrants now living permanently in Argentina, made me think even more about the twists and turns around immigration and immigrants in the USA this week while I have traveled.

Earlier in the week there was major concern about the continued backward, and repressive, direction that the Obama Administration has taken around immigrants in the United States and its mouthing of reform while it mandated repression.  Loud cries of anger and protest rose at the announcements of a toughening stance by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over the controversial and coercive Secure Communities program which too often has been a fast track to criminalizing economic refugees rather than violent interlopers, as well as a tool for the worst among us on these issues like Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other wannabe police officials that Secure Communities forcibly impresses into being immigration cops.  Some states, many cities, and other political jurisdictions have refused to comply with Secure Communities, rejected its attack on human rights and civil liberties, and refused the money, while the Administration has continued to force feed the program regardless and upped the ante in doing so recently.  Illinois and some other jurisdictions have continued their resistance, but clearly a deeper and perhaps more cynical politics is at work.

What seemed especially traitorous was the endorsement of Secure Communities in a hearty embrace by Cecilia Munoz, who has been a shining light for immigrant rights and before joining the Obama Administration after the election, one of the clearest and most effective voices for change with friends and allies in all sorts of organizations.  We certainly counted ourselves proudly among them at ACORN.   One of my friends speculated earlier this week about whether Cecilia had jumped to this conclusion or been pushed.

Yesterday’s announcement that the Administration will use “prosecutorial discretion” in dealing with deportation cases involving children who have been in the USA virtually all of their lives because they were brought here by their parents, perhaps illegally, families of servicemen and other divided family situations, those trying to serve in our military or attend college or similar situations, and instead only focus deportation procedures on criminal elements with records, gang membership, or similar problems essentially implements much of the promise of the DREAM Act.  Advocates estimated this could impact up to 2 million immigrants in the USA now.  Senator Durbin of Illinois, who has been a consistent and courageous advocate of the DREAM Act, was more subdued and guessed it might impact 100-200,000.  Anyway you count it, the announcement is a major step forward in alleviating a huge injustice and moral insult on the deepest principles of America.  DHS’s Napoliano was quick to point out that it doesn’t change the need for real reform or the DREAM Act, and for the first time in a long time, I have to say I absolutely agree with her on that point!

This is all temporary, and the President is making clear through these actions not only that he wants to hide behind Secure Communities on his right flank, but also that Latino and other voters in 2012 have to see him as the thin line between coming and going for immigrants and their families in this beleaguered category.

Though the details have not emerged, there can’t be much doubt that this was a deal that had Cecilia’s fingerprints all over it, while leveraging Senator Durban big time along with Majority Senate Leader Harry Reid, who still needed to deliver for the huge lift he got from Latino voters in his Nevada re-election last fall.  Obama never seems to understand that you have to give as well as get in politics to hold support, but Munoz, Durban, and Reid all understand the political equation only too well and no doubt knew the anger and frustration at losing everything was disillusioning if the only hope was the thin one of taking back control of Congress.

This was a classic velvet gloved fist political deal.  Give some relief to the the more innocent victims of our failure to enact DREAM and immigration reform, while hitting immigrants hard where they live and work, day after day, in their communities.  As NDLON attorney, Chris Newman, remarked on twitter last night, the new announcements on careful reading, still have moved to criminalize all immigrants in the USA.  The foot has been lifted from some necks with “prosecutorial discretion,” the principle continues to press down on all immigrants that the foot is still there, hovering, and can fall with any misstep or political push in an opposite direction.

There’s little doubt in my mind that Cecilia and the Senators crafted a deal, and it’s definitely better than nothing, so that’s something to celebrate.  Thank goodness Obama is facing an election, so he had to finally deliver something.  The sad part of it has to remain, that this is the best that all of their work on the inside could deliver.

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