Obama’s deportation game
In a revealing exchange with Jerry Seinfeld in the comic’s Web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” President Obama -- who Seinfeld explains has fired off enough one-liners to appear on the show -- compares politics to football.
Sometimes you move the ball inches at a time, Obama says. Occasionally, you score points. You get hit a lot. And, he notes, much of the time, you punt.
The president forgot one: In politics, most of the time, you hide the ball.
And during the summer of 2014, that’s what Obama did when dealing with the refugee crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border.
You’ll recall that tens of thousands of women, children and others made a mess of election-year politics because the huddled masses took literally the inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty and showed up at our back door “yearning to breathe free.”
All they wanted was to keep breathing. This wasn’t the usual tale of immigrants coming here for a job, a fresh start, an escape from oppression.
These people came from dangerous countries — Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador — where hundreds of police officers have in recent years been assassinated by violent street gangs, and where innocent bystanders are beaten, threatened, raped and murdered. Many of the refugees’ friends and family members had already been killed by these gangs, and they had a credible fear they would be next. In fact, some had specifically been targeted.
That border crisis is back in the news. According to The Washington Post, the Department of Homeland Security has begun preparing for a series of raids -- kicking off as early as this month -- that would target for deportation hundreds of families who had been apprehended but released with a notice to appear before an immigration court.
Conservatives wailed at the time that folks were getting away scot-free. Now it seems, as usual when it comes to issues related to immigrants and refugees, the right was wrong.
If these people failed to appear as ordered, it’s hard to argue they shouldn’t be deported. People make choices, and they live with the consequences.
But you can’t have effective enforcement if the system lacks honesty and integrity. And there is no sign of either in this story.
These desperate souls seem to fit the definition of refugees. That’s for immigration judges to decide. Sadly, in many cases, we never got that far. The numbers were so big that the system was overwhelmed, and -- in devising its formal response -- the administration was making it up as it went along. The fate of the new arrivals was, in large measure, decided not by the usual factors -- what country they came from, their life circumstances, whether they had family members in the United States, etc.
Instead, during that chaotic time, what seems to have mattered most was when you arrived. The third wave was turned around, put on airplanes and deported back home. The second wave was detained indefinitely in grotesque holding facilities in Texas and New Mexico.
It is the first wave that immigration officials are now planning to hunt down. It’s true that many of these people were released, but they weren’t told when they were supposed to report back. That information was supposed to find its way to them later, but there’s no way of knowing if they ever received it. In other cases, people were told to report for hearings that were thousands of miles away. And no attorneys were provided.
According to immigration lawyers familiar with these cases, thousands of people were ordered removed in absentia.
It was all about political expedience. Just as the George W. Bush administration found it problematic, after the attacks of Sept. 11, to acknowledge that some terror suspects were U.S. citizens because it gave them due process, the Obama administration must have known that designating people as “refugees” would make it nearly impossible to deport them.
And deport them is what Team Obama wanted to do. After all, while liberals don’t want to accept it and conservatives can’t afford to concede it, repopulating Latin American countries is Obama’s special skill. This administration isn’t proficient at much, but it does have a knack for removing the brown-skinned immigrants who raise the anxiety level of white Americans.
Now it’s preparing to do it again.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is [email protected].