After June’s meeting on immigration reform between President Barack Obama and members of Congress, pro-immigrant activists were hoping for a new push towards what they thought was a shared goal.
So far, what they’ve gotten is an energetic effort by the administration to continue, expand and bolster Bush-era immigration policies criticized as insensitive, racist and ineffective.
“We are expanding enforcement, but I think in the right way,” Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano told The New York Times in an interview for a story published Monday.
Napolitano was referring to several new initiatives launched under her — and Obama’s — watch, according to the Times:
- Audits of employee paperwork at hundreds of businesses, which activists and workers say have led to massive firings.
- The expansion of e-Verify, a program to verify workers’ immigration status that has been widely criticized as flawed.
- The bolstering of the 287 (g) program which allows cooperation between federal and local law enforcement agencies, which pro-immigrant observers say has gone awry and has led to racial profiling by the police.
- The rejection of proposals for legally binding rules governing conditions in immigration detention centers, which numerous reports have said are inhumane and in violation of basic human rights.
The change in tone by the Obama administration has led to a parallel shift in the activists’ tone, who at first timidly, and now more vocally, are starting to criticize (see here and here) the president many of them enthusiastically supported in last year’s election. The campaign buzzword “change” is starting to take on an ironic meaning in press releases from pro-immigration groups.
At the same time. Obama has continued his campaign strategy of talking more openly about immigration reform when he addresses Hispanic audiences. But even in those appearances the president has been careful not to mention or explain his decision to continue President Bush’s heavy-handed enforcement tactics.
The approach that combines stronger enforcement with promises of reform, the Times’ Julia Preston writes,
…brings Mr. Obama around to the position that his Republican rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona, espoused during last year’s presidential campaign, a stance Mr. Obama rejected then as too hard on Latino and immigrant communities. (Mr. McCain did not respond to requests for comment.)
Now the enforcement strategy has opened a political rift with some immigrant advocacy and Hispanic groups whose voters were crucial to the Obama victory.
“Our feelings are mixed at best,” said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, immigration director of the National Council of La Raza, which has joined in the criticism, aimed primarily at Ms. Napolitano. “We understand the need for sensible enforcement, but that does not mean expanding programs that often led to civil rights violations.”