Summer is for baseball; for watching America’s pastime under a hot sun with a cold drink. It’s also a half-way point; an All-Star Break or a seventh-inning stretch, if you will. The kids are out of school, the boss is on vacation, and we can look back over the past six months and evaluate what we’ve done, and what we need to do to cross home plate. As we enter the bottom of the 7th inning of Mr. Obama’s first year as President, it’s worth examining his immigration policies thus far to determine where he has made strides and where he has struck out.
Run: Replacing Chertoff with Napolitano
To begin, Obama brought in a new starting pitcher to replace Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff. Janet Napolitano has proven to be a good trade; as a Governor, she has good stats on immigration and a record to match. Critics, however, say that she has actually increased immigration enforcement measures and crackdowns, which Obama had originally pledged in the pre-season would be more moderate than his predecessor’s. And, looking at her numbers, it’s true; in April of this year there were 9,037 immigration cases in the federal courts, an increase of 32% from 2008 under President Bush. Secretary Napolitano has also begun auditing over 600 businesses across the country, and she expanded the widely-criticized E-Verify program. The number of deportations has reportedly increased. So what’s going on?
Many immigration advocates are up in arms and calling for a relief, and I’ll even call some strikes on Janet. She did reject proposals that would have created legally binding rules regarding the conditions in immigration detention centers (some of which have been discovered to be grossly unacceptable). Strike one. She has agreed to bolster support for the 287(g) program, which basically turns local police into Immigration officers. Strike two. But I think it’s important to examine Secretary Napolitano’s approach to the overwhelming problem of immigration. It’s easy to forget, but Secretary Napolitano’s first task is, as her title implies, “Homeland Security,” meaning she must enforce the laws. And while her numbers may be up from Chertoff’s, her methods are more moderate and much more focused on labor issues. Unlike her predecessor, Secretary Napolitano seems to focusing on employers, particularly bad-apple employers who are exploiting undocumented workers, rather than on individuals. We haven’t had a Postville-style raid, or heard much about heavily-armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers entering private residences without a warrant and arresting hard-working gardeners in front of their young children. Ms. Napolitano also argues that “no-nonsense immigration enforcement is necessary to persuade American voters to accept legislation that would give legal status to millions of illegal immigrants.” Good point.
Hit: Congressional Committees and Relief for Widows
Many Hispanic communities and groups seemed ready to nominate Obama for MVP after he promised to take on the issue of immigration during the first year of his first term, especially after Senator John McCain seemed to shy away from his endorsement of earlier immigration reform legislation. However, seventh months into his first year, all that’s really been done is that a committee has been formed to begin discussing what an immigration reform package should look like. It’s a good first step, but the play has fallen dead. Congress has discussed healthcare and Harvard professors and bailouts and biofuels, but they’ve kept quiet on immigration, and now they’re on break. There’s no question that in the wake of the economy and a much-needed healthcare reform, the immigration debate is being held at first base. It’s a good start, but let’s just hope Obama can bring someone to the plate to advance the issue.
Error: Distracting Hispanics with Sonia Sotomayor
There’s a strong sense in the Hispanic community and among immigration groups in the Capitol that Obama may have nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court as a means of pacifying a group of voters who played such a crucial role in his election, but to whom he has yet to deliver on his pledges. Many Washington groups see Sotomayor’s nomination as a way for Obama to put off immigration reform for another year so he can turn his focus to the economy and to the energy crisis; a way to show support for Latinos without actually having to come through on the immigration issue.
I have to say, I hope they’re wrong. Sonia Sotomayor is incredibly impressive, super-qualified, and a great pick for a Supreme Court Justice (she even won over South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham, which anyone will tell you, takes more than a wink and a smile). Her nomination was in no way an error, but if it is being used as a means of distraction, I’m awarding Obama an error.
It may not have been a very exciting game so far, but I wouldn’t count Obama out just yet. He promised to address the issue in the first year of his first term, and while he’s still got time to hit one out of the park, I think this one’s probably headed into extra innings.