Hi Eva, I hope it’s okay that I address you by your first name.
We’re big fans of you over here at Colorlines. There are some very committed Desperate Housewives fans on staff, but I think I started following your political work after I heard you were going back to school to get your master’s in Chicano Studies at CSU Northridge. (Yay, public education!) And you won me over when you came out in support of the DREAM Act. You use your celebrity for good, and are community-minded, too.
But, okay, enough gushing. The real reason I’m writing is to let you know you’re being lied to. Well, you and the dozen other Latina and Latino celebrities including America Ferrera, Emilio Estefan and Rosario Dawson who were at the recent White House meeting to discuss, according to the White House, “the importance of fixing the broken immigration system … so that America can win the future.”
President Obama’s been getting a bunch of heat recently from immigrant rights groups, and even members of Congress, who are demanding that he use his executive authority to halt the deportation of certain groups, including DREAM Act-eligible youth. The DREAM Act would allow undocumented yoth who’ve grown up in the country to eventually become eligible for citizenship if they cleared a long list of hurdles and committed two years to the military or education. Obama’s administration heartily supported it; his education, labor, homeland security and defense secretaries—even his agriculture secretary!—all made strong public statements announcing their unequivocal support of the bill when it was being debated in Congress last December. But after it failed, Obama’s kept on deporting would-be beneficiaries anyway.
He was even confronted earlier this year during a Univision-hosted town hall by Karen Maldonado, a young undocumented immigrant who held her deportation order up to her Web cam and asked Obama why he was still dispensing them to undocumented immigrant youth, who want to put their education to work for the country and stay in the only home many have ever known.
“America is a nation of laws, which means I, as the president, am obligated to enforce the law. I don’t have a choice about that,” he told Maldonado, insisting as he has ever since becoming president that he would not act without Congress. “That’s part of my job.”
I suspect he told you the same thing, too, Eva, because after your meeting last week you told CNN something very similar.
“We like to blame Obama for the inaction, but he can’t just disobey the law that’s written,” you said, urging Latinos who were angry about things to vote.
Here’s what the White House didn’t tell you. President Obama does have the executive authority to stop the deportation of certain classes of immigrants who would otherwise be deportable; he’s just refusing to use that authority. Maybe he’s worried about political backlash from the right. Maybe he figures he has enough political capital with the left to keep denying his own power. But either way he’s being pretty cowardly about things. The worst part, in my opinion, are the bald-faced lies. Not just to you, but to the rest of the country, to the nation’s immigrant youth.
The folks over at the American Immigration Council published an informative memo, signed by two former INS general counsels, that outlines exactly how much power Obama’s got to keep immigrant families together.
From deferred action to deferred enforced departure, signing statements and humanitarian parole, there’s a whole menu of options that President Obama has—and that past presidents have used—to help keep immigrant families together. He is choosing not to use that power.
The law is the law, but law enforcement agencies exercise prosecutorial discretion at every step in every case. The AIC memo explains: “In the immigration context, prosecutorial discretion is exercised at every stage in the enforcement process—which tips or leads will be investigated, which arrests will be made, which persons will be detained, which persons will be released on bond, which cases will be brought forward for removal hearings or criminal prosecution, and which removal orders will be executed.”
The lying continues elsewhere. The Obama administration has publicly declared its enforcement efforts are targeted at deporting convicted criminals. But programs like 287(g) and the rapidly expanding Secure Communities have led to the deportation of hundreds of thousands of non-citizens, and not just those without papers, who have never been convicted of any crime whatsoever, or who were forced out of the country for minor violations like shoplifting and traffic offenses.
“No matter how definitive or rigid a law may appear, the exercise of executive branch authority is critical to the ultimate implementation of the law,” said Ben Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council. “The choice on immigration today is whether the president and his cabinet will act boldly to use their authority to improve the lives of millions, or will allow the current enforcement-only mindset to continue unabated.”
Obama has more power than he says he does. If by chance you happen to see him again, maybe you can ask him why he refuses to use it.
Julianne Hing is a reporter and blogger for Colorines.com, where this post originally appeared on May 9, 2011.
Image courtesy of Fuuu via Flickr.