Obama Speech in El Paso Is More About Politics Than Action


President Obama stepped up his campaign for immigration reform with a speech this afternoon in El Paso along the Texas/Mexico border.

The president said that now is the time for America to take up immigration reform because the border is currently as secure as it has been in our lifetimes:

In recent years, among the greatest impediments to reform were questions about border security.  These were legitimate concerns; it’s true that a lack of manpower and resources at the border, combined with the pull of jobs and ill-considered enforcement once folks were in the country, contributed to a growing number of undocumented people living in the United States…Well, over the past two years we have answered those concerns.  Under Secretary Napolitano’s leadership, we have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible.   They wanted more agents on the border. Well, we now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history.  The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents – more than twice as many as there were in 2004, a build up that began under President Bush and that we have continued.

They wanted a fence. Well, that fence is now basically complete.

And we’ve gone further.  We tripled the number of intelligence analysts working the border.  I’ve deployed unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the skies from Texas to California.  We’ve forged a partnership with Mexico to fight the transnational criminal organizations that have affected both of our countries.  And for the first time we are screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments – to seize guns and money going south even as we go after drugs coming north.

But, Obama said, the same Republicans who demanded increased security now dismiss the changes that have been made:

So, we have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I suspect there will be those who will try to move the goal posts one more time. They’ll say we need to triple the border patrol. Or quadruple the border patrol. They’ll say we need a higher fence to support reform.

“Maybe they’ll say we need a moat,” Obama joked in reference to Republicans. “Or alligators in the moat.”

“They’ll never be satisfied,” he concluded. “And I understand that. That’s politics.”

The president also called out politicians who grossly exaggerate crimes perpetrated by undocumented immigrants:

Also, despite a lot of breathless reports that have tagged places like El Paso as dangerous, violent crime in southwest border counties has dropped by a third.  El Paso and other cities and towns along the border are consistently rated among the safest in the nation.

President Obama has been under enormous pressure from immigrant communities to use his administrative powers to prevent the deportation of young people eligible for the DREAM Act, and he referenced the bill:

And as long as the current laws are on the books, it’s not just hardened felons who are subject to removal; but also families just trying to earn a living, bright and eager students; decent people with the best of intentions.  I know some here wish that I could just bypass Congress and change the law myself.  But that’s not how a democracy works.  What we really need to do is keep up the fight to pass reform. That’s the ultimate solution to this problem.

In other words, Obama is not going to use his administrative powers to correct some of the greatest harms being done by current policies.

This speech represents a disappointing decision by the president to use immigration as a wedge issue, rather than to use his considerable power to improve the lives of young immigrants.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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