Milwaukee County Labor Council AFL-CIO

August 21, 2014

In The News

Do immigration steps rescue or merely reveal GOP?

Obama's Las Vegas speech struck same vision, but now the GOP has reason to meet him on immigration.

By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted January 30, 2013


If you listened to President Obama’s impassioned call for “common sense comprehensive immigration reform” January 29, you can’t be blamed for hearing an echo. He made much the same speech when he was running for re-election and, in fact, though now fleshed out, in earlier presentations through his first four years.

It isn’t Obama who has budged. It’s the opposition, not from moral drive but self-preservation. All along he has seen the issue more clearly -- willing to bring others along on the details but a superior politician and analyst of the American psyche, seeking ways to combine what he wants, what the country needs and what the voters will come around to agreeing with.

What make overdue immigration reform possible now are the self-centered politics of once obstructionist Republicans and reluctant Democrats. He now has a bipartisan group of eight senators and a House committee working on similar immigration regulation. Some are true believers. Some are doing the politically expedient. Consider those GOP senators like Rubio and Graham who have spun back and forth on this issue, failing to inhale the proper political winds. John McCain is now back in the fold, contradicting his own dervish reversal when he ran for president or fought off a right-wing primary challenge in Arizona.

No one should fool themselves that this is a done deal. It’s just that the atmospherics are simply better. The Republicans know they cannot return to being a major political party until they address the growing Latino community. Democratic political insiders wonder if their own party is being foolish to risk a devastating advantage by moving to solve this crucial lingering problem. But in doing so willingly, the Democrats are again spelling out the differences between the two sides.

At least Obama has been there from the start. But, to the dismay of the most progressive Latino activists, he has to put emphasis on something necessary but fast becoming the least central issue in comprehensive reform – security of the US-Mexican border. The deal on the table sends more boots on the ground and even drones to a region where illegal traffic has shrunk to near nothing under Obama’s watch, a combination of tighter security, higher hostility to Latinos and fewer jobs in America.

It’s right to assure that no vast numbers of undocumented further clog the path to citizenship of the millions already working and raising families here. But it’s wrong to use such apprehension to demonize a central fabric of the US community or claim the border must be locked tighter than a drum before any scrupulous path to citizenship can be allowed.

In Nobemeber,, Christine Neumann-Ortize honored the Palermo workers. Jan. 29 she and a leader of the strikers were invited to attend Obama's speech on immigration reform.

It’s worrisome how Obama must stress Mexican border security to give Republicans a reason to act sane. Yet there are many other porous borders while this one we’re spending vast money on is largely dormant. There are bigger problems, such as greedy middlemen from Europe to Asia – many moving traffic through Canada and the Caribbean in both directions if you talk to the human slavery coalitions.

Yet we still focus on penalizing families who have worked hard for decades in this country because they jumped the fence to save years in waiting or – no different than the homeowner duped by some shady roof contractor – believed the promises of a better life from businesses bussing them to rural jobs.

As politically savvy as it may be, given the insistence on border security before intelligence, this aspect of the outline has already caused the first doubts from the left in the immigration debate. Right-wingers insist that Southwest officials (many who would never agree to any path to citizenship) must first verify border security while the more appropriate view is that they will provide advice and recommendation, particularly since any such group is likely to include such bizarros as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

Cynically, the system will remain out of balance if Congress bends to Republican fears just to get the votes. The true common sense will indeed be what the Tea Party suspects would happen – speeding the process, because that is the right thing. Let’s not pretend that sending 12 million people to the back of a cumbersome crooked line is better than putting humanity and fairness at the front. It’s not even fiscally intelligent because the citizenship route combines fines, back taxes and further contributions to the taxpayer coffers, and the quicker the better for the economy.

Frankly, undocumented workers are not the key concern of Latino and Asian citizens, though their treatment is intrinsically tied to their view of a political party. It is the fading right-wing whites who are most agitated.

On a larger scale, Obama got 70% of the Latino and Asian vote because the Democrats are generally much better and more humane on issues of education, health and job creation. The Republicans’ blind insistence on what could be kindly described as nativist fear has further eroded their reputation, considering who they kept putting front and center to speak for them. (Mr. Self-Deportation and to hell with the Dream Act?) It’s made the Democrats look infinitely better on such traditional GOP strengths as job creation, keeping government out of the bedroom and trusting people to work hard to sustain their families.

Obama’s bonafides as a tough guy have reassured conservatives while worrying progressives. He has reduced border sneak traffic more intelligently and firmly than any previous president. He instituted stronger enduring law enforcement. He deported millions more than Bush for failing criminal checks and sometimes just for their desperate violation of broken laws to be with their families.

Despite all this, the Latino community trusts him more than the GOP controlled Congress that refused to pass the Dream Act They responded to general policies of restoring the economy and because he rode his executive powers to the outer limit to give Dreamers a two-year grace period. Even while increasing deportation he flatly ordered his officials – to the dismay of right-wing senators – to protect children and not separate minors from their parents.

You would think this studied mixture of compassion and stringency would put to rest the right’s fear of Obama’s policies, or at least modify the impassioned anger that has for 175 years surrounded the issue of immigration in America (the Irish hated by the Germans, the Romanians hated by the Italians, the Poles the Jews and on and on). This time, of course, it is harder to disguise the color and language issue throwing us back to the era when California tried to bar the Chinese and Japanese Americans were interned.

Yet the Tea Party still refuses to give Obama credit. They can’t even admit how little “illegals” had to do with current economic woes caused by big bad Wall Street and actually how much their cultural resources have to do with the resurgence of the general economy.

Obama and the Democrats are also displaying considerable confidence in the American public’s ability to perceive who deserves credit for any advancement. In fact, the voters have proven too smart to be suckered by the spinning top that the Republicans have become.

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