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The State Of The Union, In The Midst Of An Immigration Shame

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Please note the following column was translated from Spanish to English and is available for reprint as long as the author is given proper credit. This column is available online in Spanish here.

This week President Barack Obama will give his last State of the Union address in the midst of two grand contradictions.  On the one hand, the Supreme Court could decide whether or not to take up the case that has the potential to unleash the executive actions that would pause the deportation of millions, the actions that this Administration’s Justice Department is defending.  On the other hand, this same government, via the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is deporting Central American mothers and children, who in many cases face a near-certain death if returned, without due process or legal help to make their cases for asylum.  And in the process, the government is terrorizing the entire immigrant community.

If deportations are reportedly focused on criminals and people who represent a threat to national security, the question becomes what danger do children and mothers fleeing rampant violence and misery actually pose?  They’re fleeing horrifying conditions that are a product of not only government corruption in their home countries, but also the reign of gangs and drug dealers, whose business is fed by the consumers of drugs living on this side of the border.  And we haven’t even talked about the interventionist policies of the United States in Latin America to advance this country’s own interests, leaving a breeding ground that lead to many of the present problems in their wake.  

When the wave of Central American children arriving at the borders either alone or with their mothers began in 2014, the immediate reaction was to deposit them in detention centers like criminals.  But after pressure from the community, the Administration began to review their asylum claims.  However, one of the central problems has been the lack of access to adequate legal counsel so necessary for such applications to succeed.  

The Obama Administration argues that they have to “send a message” in order to avoid the waves of migrants that occurred in 2014 and 2015.  The recent arrivals, they say, are a deportation priority although the argument ignores the fact that this is a problem of refugees seeking asylum, not an issue of immigration.

Now that Obama is entering the last year of his presidency, it makes sense to review his immigration miscalculations, the first of which was to not push immigration reform when the Democratic Party controlled both chambers of Congress.  This was a monumental mistake, magnified by the wave of deportations—nearly 3 million—that have marked his presidency and were supposedly focused on criminals even though now they contradict themselves.    

Truth be told, the good of this presidency was obtained after a fight to the death engaged in by the immigrant community and lead by the DREAMers who did not back down until the Obama Administration conceded to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, in an election year and owing to the fear that the lack of immigration relief would depress turnout among Latino voters.  

After seeing support from Latino voters rise in 2012, the Administration decided to push immigration reform which passed in the Senate (then controlled by Democrats) and died in the House of Representatives (under Republican control).  This faltering led Obama to propose executive orders to expand DACA and create DAPA to pause the deportation of many parents of those same DREAMers (those who also had U.S. Citizen siblings).  These executive actions remain tied up in the courts.  

But when Obama gives his last State of the Union speech, he will do it while applying a cruel policy towards Central American refugees, more suited to the whims of a recalcitrant Republican than a Democrat who won the presidency promising to act on immigration reform.  It harkens back to the miscalculations and crude realties the community faced after the hope and change they were promised in 2008.

The state of current immigration policy toward Central Americans looking for well-deserved protection is, Mr. Obama, a real shame.

Maribel Hastings is a Senior Advisor to America’s Voice.