Immigration advocates bemoaned the Obama administration's failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation and "ferocious" emphasis on enforcement at a panel today at American University's Washington College of Law, warning that it could cost the president reelection in 2012.
“We came in with high hopes when Obama was elected,” said Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress. “But we couldn’t even get 60 votes to pass something as sympathetic as the Dream Act.”
The Dream Act would have allowed children who were 15 or younger when they came to the United States to earn conditional permanent residency after completing two years of college or two years in the military.
Obama “can’t win [reelection] without the Latino vote,” Kelley said, noting that the Latino population is the fastest-growing in the United States. “Demographics are destiny...and right next to the economy in terms of Latino concerns is immigration.”
At this point, she said, there is “no hope for comprehensive immigration legislation. It’s not going to happen.” The result may be a patchwork of state laws. “States are grappling with a broken immigration system,” she said. “Federal lawmakers need to get out from under their desks and show some courage.”
Sarah Paoletti, who is the director of the Transnational Legal Migration Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said that rather than focusing on “massive worksite raids that don’t project a good image” – the approach favored by George W. Bush – the Obama administration has used I-9 audits, which she called “more insidious.” Employers use the forms to verify a worker’s eligibility for employment in the United States.
“When there are more audits, more employers will switch to a cash economy, paying people off the books,” Paoletti said. “It’s pushing people further underground.”
The panelists, which also included American University history professor Alan Kraut, noted that the Obama administration has deported more people in its first two years than the Bush administration.
Paoletti did applaud the announcement yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security that it was ending the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, a program that required manual registration of citizens entering the United States from high-risk countries.
She said that the United States routinely discriminates against would-be immigrants from different countries, contrasting the treatment of Cuban immigrants with those from Haiti.
And she noted that the administration has resumed deportation of Haitians with criminal records – proceedings which had been suspended after the earthquake last year. One such deported immigrant recently died in a Haiti jail from cholera-like symptoms.