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Thursday, Feb 26, 2009, 10:58 am

Obama Can’t Play Centrist on Immigration Crisis

By Nezua
The Obama Administration seems quite capable of centrist positioning on many issues, including immigration reform. While some argue centrist position allows Obama to effectively reach consensus, immigration reform is an issue that he cannot play sides with. While immigration reform advocates cheered the passage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program bill (SCHIP), there is also considerable upset concerning Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano's "finessing" of crackdown tactics begun under President Bush.

And more trouble is brewing. While President Obama speaks of improving our approach to immigration, he has yet to call for a moratorium on the ICE raids that are devastating the communities and economies where they take place. And he has yet to address the detention crisis specifically. The first raid of the new administration occured in Bellingham, WA on Feb. 24. As Hatty Lee writes for RaceWire, "In these times of economic hardship, detaining hardworking men and women and dividing families is just perpetuating more fear in our communities. We need to bring the people together not push them further apart."

One wonders how much supervision ICE is actually operating under, as Secretary Napolitano was surprised to hear about the raid:
Napolitano told lawmakers during a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday that she did not know about the raid before it happened and was briefed on it early Wednesday morning. She has asked U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which conducted the raid, for answers. "I want to get to the bottom of this as well," she said.
Statements like this do not gel with recent actions that indicate Napolitano's desire to overhaul U.S. detention practices, such as creating a new advisory position to focus on these issues. Through a more cynical lens, the gap between statement and action can be seen as typical political maneuvering, and specifically, Democratic doublespeak. There are factions on the left that disagree on many issues. Even among immigration advocates there is a rift regarding how to present the issue to the voting public.

This conflict may be what we see playing out before our eyes. The division among liberal advocates of immigration reform came into focus after 2006 and 2007's failures to pass immigration reform. Democratic party leaders have adopted Right wing stances on the issue, just as they have regarding National Security. Party leaders are using words that imply harsh and punitive action, and eschewing morality or heart in the name of strategy. These stances are based on the advice of a number of immigration advocacy groups such as the National Immigration Forum (NIF), and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), who felt that the focus must come away from what was best for migrating human beings and onto what was in the national interest.

This stance was outlined in a confidential report called Winning The Immigration Debate, which was given to Democratic party leaders in 2007. The report calls for tougher language, but 2007's McCain/Kennedy bill contained more punitive wording and it failed. Are we now to repeat this error, even while the Democrats hold such power in Washington? It will not do to simply "require" immigrants to "come out of the shadows," to borrow lingo from 2007, and let the Department of "Homeland Security" continue its traumatizing actions on the community. ICE has not lived up to its promises, and worse, resorted to unethical means to justify its continued operations. Already, we've read many heartbreaking stories about those who suffer greatly or die in ICE's custody. As AlterNet reports, we can now add those suffering from mental illness to the list of those impacted.
The number of mentally and developmentally disabled detainees in South Texas federal immigration detention centers has surged during the past year, according to area attorneys who call the trend "alarming."
The AlterNet report details the Kafkaesque case of Pierre Bernard, a Haitian immigrant ordered to undergo six months of psychiatric treatment but who ended up, instead, in an ICE detention center. Women migrants are also subject to exploitation, rape, and other abuse. But now, as Kevin Sieff writes in the Texas Observer, women in U.S. dentention centers are now being denied basic reproductive rights. "For pregnant women in immigration detention facilities, it is virtually impossible to obtain an abortion," Sieff writes. In 2008, nearly 10% of detained women were pregnant. Yesterday, Janet Marguía, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, responded to the Bellingham raids, and the challenges now facing the Obama administration.
Escalating immigration raids and local police crackdowns over the past eight years have spread indiscriminate terror among millions of people who pose no threat to the United States and who have lived peacefully and productively within our borders for years. Most have worked hard, paid taxes, lived productive lives, and been good neighbors. Many have children and spouses who are U.S. citizens. Many have served in our nation's defense. Yet over the past eight years, U.S. policies have sought to criminalize this population, raid their homes and workplaces, suspend their civil liberties, put them in chains, and ultimately deport them.
And while Hilda Solis, the daughter of immigrants, has been confirmed as Secretary of Labor, and Obama has given another straightforward speech to congress and the nation (critiqued here by The Real News), DHS appears to be still mucking through the Bush agenda. The so-called "Enforcement first" or ICE-centric approach to immigration is not a solution. It asks too much of ICE, it is not practical, and it is not going well. Such an approach is egregiously incongruent with the nation Obama asks us to envision under his administration.

We truly are a "nation of immigrants," and we must rethink our current treatment of migrants. To continue this destructive approach while speaking eloquently and carefully to the Press is a line the President cannot successfully straddle. The administration is now faced with a confluence of reality and ideals. Some things you cannot split down the middle.
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