The Pied Piper of Permisos
Our president—and his party—owns the immigration mess.
By Ross Kaminsky – 7.8.14
It’s beginning to sink in with the intelligentsia: The flood of illegal aliens (yes, I said “illegal”) and particularly the tsunami of children traveling alone — parents risking their youngsters’ lives by sending them from Central America through gang-ravaged Mexico — threatens to turn the immigration debate into a major political liability for Democrats in November.
While immigration is typically low on the list of issues Americans care most about, it was to be a trump card for the left in turning out otherwise apathetic or demoralized Hispanic and liberal voters four months from now. But, as seems to be the result of almost every Obama administration policy, reality is blowing up the best laid plans of the DNC.
As liberals are wont to do, their responses to the collapse of their one potentially winning issue fall into two main categories: demonizing critics of the president and others who are troubled by current events along our southern border and trying to change both the direction and actual words of the conversation about the problem. The latter is a particular sign of desperation.
Murrieta, California, a city of just over 100,000 people in Riverside County, was the site last week of protesters waving American flags and blocking buses transporting illegal aliens who had been apprehended illegally crossing the border into Texas. They were being moved to California because of overcrowding of Texas holding facilities. Not least due to health concerns, residents of Murrieta wanted no part of it.
In the last six months, over 52,000 mostly Central American children have been caught at the border. The estimated cost of taking care of them is $252 per child per day, with a total cost to American taxpayers of over $2 billion expected for 2014.
CNN’s Candy “I’m here for you, Barack” Crowley interviewed Murrieta mayor Alan Long on Sunday using language that should be journalistically disqualifying: “As you look at these protests, the overwhelming concern did not seem to be ‘Oh my goodness, the poor children.’ The overwhelming concern seemed to be ‘Go away. Not here.’”
The problem with Ms. Crowley’s attempt to reframe the question as a purely humanitarian one is twofold: First, there are real costs to American taxpayers and burdens on our law enforcement system that may be allowing criminal elements to “flood the zone” and infiltrate violent lawbreakers into the U.S. while Border Patrol agents are busy playing babysitter.
Second, Crowley’s approach is nearly identical to the mindset behind President Obama’s 2012 implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy which all but invited the current flood of children into the country; the moral hazard cannot be overstated, even by those (like me) who support increased legal immigration into the United States.
The macro impacts of making the conversation about “the poor children” would be, first, to redouble the number of Central American parents willing to risk their children’s lives (albeit in the hope of bettering those lives) to get them across our border and, second — and this was the goal all along — eventually to create many more Democratic voters. Republicans, even those who favor reform, shouldn’t take the “it’s for the children” bait, and they’re not.
Candy continued: “Are you at all rethinking the idea that a town can turn away busloads of children without documents who are heading to a federal processing center?” Again, to the Obama protectors the children — for whom we should all have real sympathy — are little more than a moral and charitable obligation of Americans.
But they are simply not that. They are a cost, a burden, a risk, and fundamentally the responsibility of their parents, not of Americans. And they are, like it or not, because they are “without documents” which are required to enter the United States, illegal aliens.
But, argues leftist commentator Sally Kohn, you can’t use the “i-word” because doing so is as un-American as using the “n-word” for blacks or the (other) “f-word” for gay men. According to Kohn, “That those terms seem radically inappropriate and out of step with mainstream culture now is only because social movements and legal and political changes have shifted the landscape.” It’s hard to disagree with her on the use of terms that have no purpose or meaning other than to insult, degrade, and diminish blacks, gays, Jews, or any other group.
But “illegal,” contrary to Ms. Kohn’s overwrought assertions, is not in the same category as “n**ger.” It is a statement of fact about the status of the person, one designed to clarify or amplify the alien’s status under the law rather than to cast the person as inferior. No doubt some people use the term “illegal alien” with derision. No doubt some people who object to their presence within our borders do so out of xenophobia or what is frequently called “racism” (even though most Hispanics are Caucasians).
But not most of us. And that’s why their arguments are failing.
Americans are not buying what the left is selling, the myth that many or most of those who recognize illegal aliens as illegal aliens do so out of malice. Rather, even for those (again, like me) who support immigration reform that increases legal immigration into the United States, the recognition of the magnetic power of an implicitly open border — and the relative sophistication of those who game loopholes in our laws (since children from Central America are treated differently from adults and differently from Mexican children) — makes absolutely plain what most Democrats don’t want to admit: controlling the border is a necessary first step in any conceivable immigration reform.
An added liberal non-admission: President Obama has yet another massive policy failure on his hands.
Crowley and Kohn are therefore desperate to change the conversation with the latter asking, “Even if you don’t support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, can’t you find some compassion for them as human beings who live on the same planet?” Sure I can, Sally, but that’s well down the list of priorities when it comes to making sound public policy.
But then sound public policy is not the left’s goal. Increasing the size of government and the number of Democratic voters is.
And therefore, liberal partisans and pundits must attempt to make the conversation about us, about “incredibly offensive” Americans using the “i-word” to describe people here illegally, about “nativists” whose only goal is to “dehumanize” people whose first language isn’t English and who have better tans than I do.
But it just isn’t working.
A Rasmussen Reports poll released Monday says that 46 percent of Americans believe that the Obama administration’s policies have “prompted the flood of illegal immigrant children at the border, and most want them sent back home right away.” Thirty-one percent disagree. Even prior to the news of this flood across the border, more than half of Americans believed that “the government is not aggressive enough in deporting illegal immigrants”; only 14 percent think Obama has been too aggressive.
“Immigrant rights” groups — which is to say organizations aiming at fleecing taxpayers while eroding the rule of law — frequently complain that the Obama administration has been too aggressive in its deportation policies. And the administration is trying desperately to have it both ways, to portray itself as both pro-immigration and strong on enforcement.
However, like all “data” from this government, claims of diligent enforcement of immigration law is somewhere between misleading and untruthful: studies of government data show large declines in deportations in recent years. Furthermore certain removals are now being classified as deportations even though they would not have been reported as deportations in prior years — thus goosing Obama’s credibility of being strong on border security. (Why the administration would either want or expect to have credibility given their political goals and allies remains unclear.)
The willingness to lie about everything from a Syrian red line to what counts as “enrolled” in Obamacare to every aspect of the immigration debate explains why Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) amusingly ruffled the feathers of David Gregory, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, by saying the show’s tag line should be, “If it’s Sunday, it’s another administration official making stuff up on Meet the Press.”
While support for immigration has been trending higher during the Obama presidency and while Americans still believe by roughly a 2-to-1 margin that immigration “on the whole is a good thing for this country,” the support for decreasing immigration levels into the U.S. has increased substantially in just the last four months; current events on the border will only exacerbate that trend.
When it comes to immigration (and presumably everything else Obama has failed at), Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) is “really getting fed up with some of the critics of this administration, particularly from House Republicans.” But the Senate’s “comprehensive” immigration reform bill is fundamentally flawed; both because of the policy and the politics, House Republicans are right to ignore it and insist on one-step-at-a-time reform. They are also obviously correct to mistrust President Obama’s commitment to enforce any duly passed law. Given Obama’s consistent lawlessness, a view that “I just don’t trust him to secure the border” is entirely reasonable. Mix in Texas Governor Rick Perry’s unrebutted suggestion that President Obama doesn’t “particularly care” whether the border is secure, and add a dash of thin-skinned Obama’s “so sue me” and you have the makings of a bitter political stew for Democrats.
Liberals were hoping to belittle the view of the president as unreliable and use Republican “obstructionism” on immigration reform to gin up their base in November’s elections. It was already a heavy lift given how disappointing this president has been (even to many liberals) and because immigration consistently polls near the bottom of any list of issues when voters are asked about the most important problems facing the country. Still, the left was hoping to raise the significance of immigration policy in voters’ minds — and some pro-reform Republicans shared that hope though for different reasons.
To the extent that immigration is now more “front of mind” than in recent memory — thanks to images of busloads of illegal immigrant children traveling without their parents — it can only hurt Democrats election hopes in November along with the chances for any policy reform no matter how modest, at least while this man remains president.
No amount of trying to change the language, trying to demonize critics of Barack Obama or those who accurately use the term “illegal” to describe people crossing our border illegally, will help Democrats heading into November’s critical elections. And while liberal talking heads do their best to obfuscate the utter failure of yet another Obama policy, some Democratic politicians are speaking the truth.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) speaking to the very same Candy Crowley moments after her shameful performance with the mayor of Murrieta said, “With all due respect to the administration, they’re one step behind. They should have seen this coming a long time ago.… There is an incentive [to send a child here].”
Cuellar also voiced support for changing the 2008 human trafficking law that provides the loophole for Central American children who can make their way illegally into the United States. A Republican House member will propose such a bill in coming days. President Obama himself suggested such a change but the Los Angeles Times reports a senior Senate Democratic staffer as saying that Obama “can’t get it passed” because of Democratic opposition.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will do everything possible to avoid putting vulnerable Senate Democrats in the position of having to cast that vote, not least because he wouldn’t want it to pass. It’s about time for the Democrats to form their own circular firing squad, typically the exclusive formation of the GOP.
And so, with the message becoming impossible even for Team Obama to ignore, the White House, turning the tables on Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s non-answers on Sunday, announced on Monday that “most of these kids… will not have a legal basis for remaining in this country and will be returned.”
From a policy and moral hazard perspective, it’s a good start. However, the current situation in which Central American children are not immediately deported represents the unusual spectacle of the Obama administration actually following current law. Prejudging whether courts will in fact return “most of these kids” to their countries of origin is foolhardy and smacks of “unlawful command influence,” which has caused trouble for this big-mouth president in the past. The president is in a box of his own construction. Republicans have no interest in helping him out of it and the president's own remarkable lack of comity with congressional members of his own party leaves him precious few allies, particularly going into an election in which many Democrats, if offered the chance to have President Obama campaign with them, are saying “thanks, but no thanks.”
From a political perspective, the Democrats’ hoped-for trump card of immigration is now being played against them — and against much-needed immigration reform more broadly — with great effect.
The cynical Barack Obama, facing the humanitarian and political crisis of thousands of hungry children for whom he has played the Pied Piper of Permisos, has no one to blame but himself.