Thursday, June 21, 2012

Moving the Fulcrum

President Obama announced a change to immigration policy last week that is intended to ease the deportation fears of up to one million migrant youth living in the United States.  In his speech he said:
In the absence of any immigration action from Congress to fix our broken immigration system, what we’ve tried to do is focus our immigration enforcement resources in the right places.

So we prioritized border security, putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history. Today, there are fewer illegal crossings than at any time in the past 40 years.

OBAMA: We focused and used discretion about whom to prosecute, focusing on criminals who endanger our communities rather than students who are earning their education. And today deportation of criminals is up 80 percent.

Washington Post
This is a step in the right direction, but after 3 1/2 years of increased raids and, yes, deportations of "students who are earning their education", it's no surprise that this news is met with skepticism.  Optimistic skepticism, but still skepticism.  Why?  For every single instance of deportation, those of us with family members, friends and colleagues caught in the broken immigration system's net have a tragic story attached to it.  Here's an example:
Henry Roche, a 26 year old resident of New Orleans faces the devastating reality of being removed from his family and deported to Guatemala in less than one week. Despite having lived in New Orleans for the past 6 years, ICE sees Henry and his family simply as a deportation case. They believe that separating his family and sending Henry back to Guatemala, the country where Henry and his family had faced acts of violence, extortion and a real concern for their safety, is justified as a moral action to be taken.

After being followed and threatened again by local criminals in Guatemala and experiencing the failed action of the local police to address the reports that he and his family had filed, Henry decided to take his dreams of becoming a dentist and join his family in the US. Henry’s family came to New Orleans to seek refuge and reunite with their relatives who have resided in New Orleans for over 36 years serving our country in the US military. A graduate of accounting from Guatemala, Henry came to the US to join his family and develop a better and safer life for himself.

It will be interesting to see the shift in the U.S. public's attitudes toward immigration reform now that the President has started making moves to ease restrictions instead of engaging in mass-expulsions.  Those of us who have been around the block for awhile know that the traditional media has done an improved job of storytelling and elevating the human face to the situation, it's refreshing to see the political world recall their ganas and follow suit. 

The only way the DREAM Act or any other type of immigration reform will be made possible is to change the politics of the debate.  The migrant rights community knows, however, that there is a bipartisan drought in courage.  We remember that 5 Democrats voted against DREAM, while 3 Republicans voted for it.  Math is math, and with the rampant cloture abuse in the Senate, the number that matters is 60 regardless of which side of the aisle gets us there.