President Obama addressed an enthusiastic crowd Tuesday when he spoke in El Paso, Texas, about liberalizing federal immigration laws. Audience members exhorted the president to "tear down" the border fence and called immigration hard-liners "racist."
Yet Obama acknowledged that his administration has stepped up immigration enforcement. "We are deporting those who are here illegally," he said. "And that's a tough issue. It's a source of controversy."
Those were not applause lines. Nor were Obama's statements that alluded to his Secure Communities program, which automatically cross-checks the fingerprints of individuals booked at local jails for criminal offenses with immigration databases. As Obama noted, the program directs Immigration and Customs Enforcement to target illegal immigrants who are "violent offenders and people convicted of crimes."
It tells you how radical the pro-illegal immigration lobby is that it opposes the program.
This week, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced that the "sanctuary city" will shield juveniles booked for felonies if they have family in the Bay Area and are enrolled in school. (You may recall that San Francisco's old sanctuary policy -- revoked in 2008 -- led to revelations that city officials were flying accused drug dealers to their home countries. Some were adults who lied about their age. Lee's new policy is supposed to prevent a repeat by requiring that juveniles be "accompanied" by a verifiable parent or guardian. The question is: Will this new sanctuary city policy create a new crop of sisters, cousins and aunts?)
Organizations that support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants -- like Fair Immigration Reform Movement -- are pushing for Obama to order an end to deportations of "parents of citizen children, DREAM-eligible youth and military veterans" and to "discontinue ICE programs that undermine the public safety of all communities." In effect, they don't want Obama to enforce the law, even if ICE focuses on criminals.
FIRM director Marissa Graciosa told me that she supports deporting "threats to society." Then I should think FIRM would support a program that targets illegal immigrants who end up in jail. To the contrary, she replied that programs like Secure Communities make "it harder to build trust in communities."
National Day Laborer Organizing Network general counsel Chris Newman explained, "The proper place to find criminals is in prison after they've been convicted of a crime."
But as Obama noted, "As long as the current laws are on the books, it's not just hardened felons who are subject to removal, but sometimes families who are just trying to earn a living, or bright eager students, or decent people with the best of intentions." All the more reason to start with folks in jail.
In a 2010 speech on immigration, Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard noted, "The rule of law in a just society is part of what attracts so many people to Australia."
The same holds for the United States. Activists have cause to be angry at the president's failure to push a path-to-legalization bill in his first year in office, as promised. But they don't make it easier to pass said legislation when they fight reasonable measures to bolster the rule of law.