In a series of interviews with Spanish language media this past weekend, President Obama promised to make immigration reform a year one priority of a potential second term. He also lamented Republican obstructionism on the issue. In an interview with Univision, Obama said:
I can promise that I will try to do it in the first year of my second term. I want to try this year…The challenge we’ve got on immigration reform is very simple. I’ve got a majority of Democrats who are prepared to vote for it, and I’ve got no Republicans who are prepared to vote for it.
In 2008, as a candidate Barack Obama electrified the audience at the NCLR conference in San Diego when he vowed to make comprehensive immigration reform “a top priority” his first year in office. Unfortunately, President Obama had other priorities once in office, and the Administration’s most well-known “accomplishment” on immigration has been its record number of deportations.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
I have no doubt that President Obama wants to pass the DREAM Act, AgJOBS, and comprehensive immigration reform in his second term. And he’s right that the main reason immigration reforms have not been enacted by Congress is Republican obstructionism. What’s missing, however, is an acknowledgement that his Administration has deported many of the people who would have been legalized by the kind of comprehensive reform he promised to fight for. And while the Obama Administration has announced enlightened new policy guidelines to better prioritize deportations, local immigration officers seem to ignore them with impunity.
By way of background, in August 2011 DHS issued a policy announcement articulating that immigration enforcement resources would be directed toward immigrants committing crimes and not law abiding, long-standing members of communities. However, these sensible and laudable policy guidelines are not being implemented in a fair or consistent manner. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director John Morton recently told the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Homeland Security that only 1% of pending deportation cases have been closed due to the new guidelines. DHS later clarified that this number could eventually rise as high as 9.2%.
Some of ICE’s deportation ‘priorities’ don’t look like priorities to millions of voters for whom immigration is important. They look like parents of citizen children, DREAM Act-eligible students and others who the President has said deserve discretion and legalization.