Confusing Signals on Deportations, Deals or Desperation for Immigration Reformers

US-POLITICS-IMMIGRATION-PROTESTNew Orleans    For those of us still hoping for immigration reform what are we to make of a surprising, confusing press release issued by some of the big, establishment names in the broad coalition, including the National Immigration Forum, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Sojourners, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?  This group recently called on the President to NOT act, even in the face of historic and massive deportations in order to give the House leadership the “space” to move forward on immigration reform legislation.  Specifically they said,

During this interim, we strongly urge President Obama and his Administration to allow for this process to take place before issuing administrative action. We believe the President should move cautiously and give the House Leadership all of the space they may need to bring legislation to the floor for a vote.

What in the world?  The Republican Congressional leadership has been dancing around this issue for years now, and there’s no political equation that says they will calendar anything serious on immigration before the mid-term elections, so even the most casual observer of the long campaign to win reform knows that no deal has been made.

Worse, there is no way to not see this statement as a willingness to split the reform movement because it is a gut punch to all of the reformers that have raised the issue of historic levels of family crushing deportations to the forefront.  The voices of these groups on the more activist wing of reform from the DREAMers to day laborers to some of the largest statewide worker center and immigrant advocacy organizations has not prevailed, but by targeting the Obama Administration has gotten both traction and reaction.  The President has publicly authorized various departments to see if there are options that he can use to slow down deportations, retreating from his earlier “my hands are tied” stance.  Furthermore in another telling sign of the effectiveness of the deportation campaign strategy, the Administration has been trying to push back and change the narrative by planting stories questioning the statistics and trying to change the deportation narrative, even while being pushed back on their heels.  With the Administration reeling and polls indicating declining Latino support for Democrats and the Administration because of the inaction on immigration, there is no way to see this press release as not trying to take the President off the hook for immediate action.

In desperation it almost looks like this is little more than the Beltway boys playing cute, insider politics rather than showing the grit and courage that forces change.  Besides asking the President to stand down, another piece of the press release was clearer:

Should the House fail to move forward during this window, the Administration will have an obligation to use whatever tools are at its disposal under the law to prevent the tragic family break-ups and economic disruption that has become the daily norm.

This seems like the adults and “we know betters” telling the rowdies to stand down, and presuming to “carrot-and-stick” Congress by pretending to tell their buddy, Obama, to back off, and let the House go wild, or they’ll push the President to go ahead and do what the activists and the base has demanded and relieve the pain of deportations.  This both weakens the momentum to stop the deportations and the credibility of the activists and immigrants themselves in demanding immediate relief.

Was this their idea or the White House’s?  Who knows, but at one level, who cares, since this is just another press release going into the waste basket in one Republican Congressman’s office after another while their legislative aides press “delete” on their computers, but at the other level it sows division in the reform coalition, which none of us can allow.  If there’s one thing that “House of Cards” teaches, it’s that politics and change is hard and serious business.  Playing Beltway-cutsey-cute is bad tactics and strategy when justice and social change are on the table and the life and death of people and families are at risk, and everyone knows this is high stakes, rather than a parlor game.

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