Obama puts immigration reform back on table

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President Obama wants comprehensive immigration reform back on the table.

During a stop in El Paso, Texas, May 10, the president called for creating a path to legal status for undocumented workers, passing the DREAM Act, holding unscrupulous employers accountable and a process for keeping immigrant families together.

He noted that in the past two years his administration has met the demands of Republicans in Congress who prefer a "border first" or, more accurately, "enforcement first," immigration policy.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who co-sponsored a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the past, is one such lawmaker who has backed off his support for reform since President Obama took office.

To meet the demands of the "enforcement first" Republicans, President Obama said he has take such steps as doubling the number of Border Patrol agents, improving cooperation with Mexico on the flow of illegal drugs and targeting violent criminals illegally present in the U.S. first for deportation.

By his own admission, the increased number of deportations has been "controversial." Critics of the administration's deportation efforts point out that more than just criminals have been kicked out of the country. According to a recent story at Colorlines.com, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, in announcing his state's decision to end previous cooperation with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on deportations, said that as many as 30 percent of deportees have no criminal record.

After meeting "enforcement first" demands, President Obama told the El Paso crowd, "I suspect there will be those who will try to move the goal posts one more time. They'll say we need to triple the border patrol. Or quadruple the border patrol. They'll say we need a higher fence to support reform.

"Maybe they'll say we need a moat. Or alligators in the moat," he said. "They'll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That's politics."

But now is the time for moving forward with reform, the president urged.

The speech earned President Obama praise from business and religious groups on a teleconference call afterward.

Warren Buffet scion Howard G. Buffett told reporters the president's speech signals the chance to move away from politics as usual toward working out a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform. He described the current system as "dysfunctional." "People suffer from it," he added. "Businesses suffer form it, and at times our economy has suffered from it."

He added that keeping so many working people in the shadows allows unscrupulous business owners to push down wages for all workers.

El Paso Mayor John Cook praised the president's speech as "right on," and added that a comprehensive approach beyond just enforcement makes most sense.

Randy Johnson, an official with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, guardedly praised the speech. He took a moment to lash out at the labor movement for its demand that immigration reform work to protect the rights of all workers. If the final package includes a "temporary guestworker" program, which many say allows employers to super-exploit immigrants, his organization is ready to back comprehensive reform. He added that few of the president's critics have given him credit for the border security

On the same day as the speech, the AFL-CIO signaled its continued intent to stand with all workers, including immigrants, to protect their rights to decent wages, the right to join unions, and to better working conditions.

In a statement announcing new partnerships with the National Domestic Workers' Alliance and the National Guestworkers' Alliance, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka emphasized the unions' role in standing with immigrant workers disproportionately represented by the two groups.

"We are committing to work together to build a powerful labor movement for the 21st century," he said. "We are proud to fight together with our union brothers and sisters to defend and expand the right to organize, win justice for immigrants, and ensure that one day the workers that makes all other work possible - cleaning and caring for children and seniors - will have rights, respect, and recognition."

"Comprehensive immigration reform is about people that are our neighbors that go to church with us and work with us," added Galen Carey, director of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. "Immigration reform is about people, people who are our neighbors, who go to church with us, work with us."

"All people need to be treated with dignity and respect," he added. "And that's true in enforcement as well as in reform."

"The president gave a good speech," Carey told reporters. "But he needs to do more than make good speeches."

"We would like the president to show the same tenacity in working for immigration reform that he demonstrated in the search for Osama bin Laden."

He said Obama's leadership is needed to build a broad, bipartisan consensus on comprehensive reform.

Image: Obama speaks in El Paso. Photo via White House.

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  • Obama is a good wordsmith, but quick and decisive actions are needed to match the words. Nothing in Obama's speech suggested that he thinks that comprehensive immigration reform can be achieved in this Congress, what with the anti-immigrant GOP majority in the House and insufficient Democratic votes to override a Senate filibuster. I don't know anybody in the immigrants' rights movement who thinks so either. So we are talking about at least two more years during which, if present administration policies continue, hundreds of thousands of workers and their family members will be arrested and deported. This will continue to wreak havoc on families and communities accross the country.
    The current struggle against the Chipotle restaurant chain is an example of what happens when, in a wrongheaded desire to please the Republicans so that their hearts will become softened toward the immigrants, crackdowns and "enforcement only" become the only policy. In March, Homeland Security did an audit of Chipotle's personnel records and shortly after that, some 800 employees lost their jobs because their Social Security numbers or other paperwork did not match government records. These workers, and others like them, end up working in worse jobs at lower pay, often with cash under the table, and no benefits. How does that help the immigrant workers? How does that help non-immigrant workers?
    Cracking down on employers for hiring the undocumented emphatically does not help the workers, because they are only driven further underground. This is why, in the 1980s, the CPUSA took a strong position against such "employer sanctions".
    The administration has "given" the Republicans a harsh, enforcement only policy in the hope that they in turn will support legalization of the undocumented, at some future time. This misreads the attitude of the Republicans, who are not going to do deals for things that the administration is giving them for free anyway.
    What Obama and Napolitano need to do now is to stop giving away more and more to the Republicans without a commitment of repriprocity. They need to stop foisting the Secure Communities and 287 g programs on the whole country, and to listen to the proposal of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on ways to suspend, on legal humanitarian grounds, deportation action against the parents of US citizen children and against undocumented youth, the very people who would benifit from the DREAM act if it were to pass.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 05/11/2011 7:24pm (3 years ago)

  • Let's discuss.
    Why first meet right wing demands that straw-man issues of "border security" be accommodated?
    If your first policy effort is to appease extreme rightist, with policy action, mind you, not words, what are you, in effect?
    Governor Pat Quinn has responded with the policy action that we would hope to come from the president of the U. S.
    It is no mistake that the NDWA,NGWA,and the AFL-CIO, all stand with immigrants,Galen Carey and the N A E.
    We would stand with labor for the rights of workers"that make all other work possible"that they are given full workers' rights. We want action through policy which supports this, now.
    We with labor,with Carey urge the tenacity for human rights and labor rights in immigration as the president has for imperialist policies in Afganistan-his penchant to"stop terrorism",in Pakistan and "suspect government" in Central and South America.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 05/11/2011 5:04pm (3 years ago)

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