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Chertoff Slams Obama on Immigration, But He's the One With the Problem

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In today’s Washington Post, former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff trots out the typical Republican complaints about President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program:

“I understand when the decision was made not to deport the so-called ‘Dreamers’ it was seen as very humane. But for people skeptical and distrusting, that vindicated their skepticism,” Chertoff said during an immigration forum in Raleigh, N.C., co-sponsored by a pro-reform group called Bibles, Badges and Business, the North Carolina Farm Bureau and Bipartisan Policy Center.

Chertoff said that for opponents of reform to embrace a comprehensive bill, they must be convinced that the government will uphold all elements of any new law, including additional border security and workplace screening.

“They think, ‘Well, great, we pass immigration reform, then once people are legalized, the president will waive all the requirements of border security and not enforce them,’” Chertoff said. That fear “really lurks behind the argument against this” immigration reform proposal.

Let’s get this straight: after implementing a record-crushing number of deportations year after year, President Obama finally uses his authority under the Constitution to make a narrow but critical change to deportation policy that allows young immigrants to work, drive, and live in the U.S.—temporarily–without fear of deportation.  Therefore, Republicans can’t trust him on immigration and if reform fails to pass the House this year it will be the President’s fault.

Does Chertoff really think anyone is buying this?  Republicans have been complaining about Obama’s “weak” record on immigration since he first got to the White House, despite the fact that he has deported some 400,000 people each year.  Their argument is designed to play on fear, not facts.  And, we all know that the only thing standing in the way of passing immigration reform in Congress is the will on behalf of House Republican leadership to schedule the dang vote.

It’s deeply incredible and doubly ironic that Chertoff is criticizing the President’s right to change how his agencies carry out immigration policies, when Chertoff did the very same thing just six years ago, with a much darker purpose.

Chertoff supported the bipartisan effort to pass immigration reform in the Senate in 2007.  When only 12 Republican Senators (out of 49) voted to support it and the bill died, Chertoff pivoted immediately from his legislative agenda to an oppressive menu of executive actions.  I still remember the day that he called us all into a room—a bunch of the DC types who had tried but failed to pass the Senate bill—and unveiled his 26-point plan to terrorize American communities.  His words were something along the lines of: “Reform failed in Congress because you all didn’t do your jobs, and now I’m going to do mine.”  He almost-giddily unveiled a strategy to bring down the hammer on immigrants anywhere he could find them.

Chertoff’s hallmark enforcement tactic–massive worksite raids targeting workers and not their employers–snared national headlines at the same time they ensnared hundreds of immigrant mothers, fathers, and members of our communities at a time.  But his reign of terror didn’t stop with raids at factories and meat processing plants–it included everything from SSA no-match letters, to training police to “identify” undocumented immigrants, to unleashing 75 “fugitive operations teams” that banged down doors of unsuspecting homeowners and arrested any immigrants who lived there.

It was an era where every day, thousands of American children went to school without knowing whether their parents would come home from work.

In my view, Chertoff used his “executive authority” to retaliate against immigrants he had once intended to legalize.  Obama has used his executive authority to protect some of the people he intends to legalize—and he should extend this to others who would qualify for citizenship under congressional reform.  It’s Chertoff who has the credibility problem.