The Midterm Elections have almost certainly put an end to any possibility of a legislated immigration reform until Jan. 2017. Currently, immigrants are being deported from the United States at the rate of at 1,000 to 1,400 per day. That means that while we wait for a new Congress and a new president, hundreds of thousands could be deported, the vast majority honest workers and their family members.
Those who do not personally know families affected by deportation may not be aware of what happens when a breadwinner is deported. Jobs are lost, family incomes disappear, mortgages are foreclosed because, without income, families default. Renters are thrown out of their apartments. Families are forced to move, disrupting the schooling and social networks of their children. The deported father or mother may not be seen in years. This is what happens to the family members that are left behind, including thousands of spouses and children who are U.S. born and U.S. citizens.
Those who are deported may find that they no longer have relatives and social networks to help them find housing and jobs. They are likely to be plunged into abject poverty, and their impoverished families in the United States may have to send them money to survive.
Much worse, the situation in some of the main countries from which undocumented immigrants come has become hyperviolent. In Mexico and in most of Central America, free trade treaties have increased local inequality while driving many peasant farmers off their land. In Honduras, where the United States connived with the coup d’etat of June 2009 that overthrew President Mel Zelaya, who had worked for land reform and increases in the minimum wage, the situation has become so violent that the country now has the highest murder rate in the world.
In Mexico, criminal gangs have taken to targeting people deported from the United States for violent extortion scams. They assume that such former U.S. residents are receiving remittances of money from “rich” relatives in the United States, so they target the deportees and their children for kidnapping. The mass graves being excavated all over Mexico attest to that these are not empty threats.
So Congressman John Boehner has decided that the election results are a great opportunity to play politics with the immigration issue.
Before the elections, President Obama had promised to take executive action to give relief to millions of undocumented immigrants and their families by the end of summer, if the Republican controlled House of Representatives did not pass reform legislation. Such executive action would have expanded the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows young people brought to the United States without papers when they were children to continue living and working here, to other categories of undocumented immigrants. Immigrants hoped that the president’s action would include family members of DACA beneficiaries and of U.S. citizen children and spouses of undocumented immigrants. Nobody doubts that the president has the legal right to do this, and something similar has been done by U.S. presidents going back to Eisenhower. The Migration Policy Institute has detailed the ways in which this can be legally done.
The House did not pass a bill, but the president, pressured by forces within his own party who feared that the Republicans would use his executive action to attack the Democrats in the Midterm elections, delayed the action until after the elections. This exasperated immigrant communities. There was also skepticism by many, including AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, that delaying the announcement would benefit the Democrats rather than harming them by discouraging an important sector of their base in an election in which everybody knew that turnout of minorities was vital.
The president, strongly urged by people in his own party, labor, and the immigrants’ rights movement, has now repeated his promise to take executive action if the Republicans in the House don’t act. But information on who would be covered and when he will act are sketchy.
In his first news conference after the election, Boehner used street tough talk to threaten that if the president acted “unilaterally” on immigration or other issues, he would be “playing with matches” and in danger of “burning” himself. Such action, said Boehner, would be like “waving a red flag in front of a bull.”
The immigrants’ rights movement and its labor and other allies are not going to accept either Boehner’s bullying threats or any retreat by the Obama administration.
At a press conference in Washington D.C. on Nov. 6, Trumka of the AFL-CIO repeated his insistence that Obama take executive action in spite of the threats. As he and others have repeatedly stated, “nearly 12 million people, and eight million workers, are struggling to support their families without the protection of the law. And it doesn’t just put immigrants at risk, it puts all people who work for a living at risk by driving down the standards that protect every one of us.”
Photo: Thomas Soerenes/AP & the News Tribune