Lame Duck or Prizefighter?

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the White House in WashingtonIn the months leading up to the U.S. midterm elections President Obama seemed to be sitting on the sidelines. Supports looked in vain for any sign of movement on a host of pressing issues including immigration, the XL pipeline, climate change, net neutrality, tax reform and economic policy.

The president recognized the massive wall of opposition from his Republican critics that awaited any action he might pursue on those issues. And so, he waited it out. He held off taking action on these matters until after the midterm elections were over so that Democratic candidates would not get caught in the cross fire.

But now Obama seems to be coming out of his corner – not defeated, but invigorated, saying in effect, “Bring it on.”

Obama - lame duckTonight Obama will inform the nation of his immigration policy to be implemented by executive order. Astonishingly, the major networks have refused to broadcast it – shouldn’t the “liberal” media be jumping at the chance to grant him this exposure? Instead, people will get selected “sound bites” broadcast later on – reflecting someone else’s take on his address.

Impeach ObamaI am sure Obama’s Republican critics will immediately start howling about Obama’s executive orders, demanding his impeachment – even though Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush instituted similar immigration changes by executive order during their administrations. (What? You mean the conservative media isn’t reporting this?)

According to the analysis I have read, Obama has full constitutional authority over deportations and how they shall be carried out. A recent article in the New Republic by Erwin Cherminsky, the Dean of Law at the University of California and Sam Kleiner, a fellow at the Yale Law Information Society Project, state,

One thing is clear: The president has the constitutional authority to decide to not proceed with deportations. It has always been within the president’s discretion to decide whether to have the Department of Justice enforce a particular law.

They explain,

A president may choose to not enforce particular laws when deciding how to allocate scarce resources or based on his view of the best public policy. Few object, for example, when the Department of Justice does not prosecute those who possess small amounts of marijuana, even though they violated the federal Controlled Substance Act. There are countless federal laws that go unenforced. In 1800, then congressman and later Chief Justice John Marshall stated, the president may “direct that the criminal be prosecuted no further” because it is “the exercise of an indubitable and constitutional power.”

They note that, “The president’s broad prosecutorial discretion has been repeatedly recognized by the courts.” Furthermore,

This prosecutorial discretion is even greater in immigration because the treatment of foreign citizens is inextricably intertwined with the nation’s foreign affairs, an area especially under the president’s control.

In fact, they report that

220pxPresident_Reagan_1981[P]residents of both parties have tailored immigration policy to their own goals. In 1987, the Reagan administration took executive action to limit deportations for 200,000 Nicaraguan exiles, even those who had been turned down for asylum. Similarly, President George H.W. Bush in 1990 limited deportations of Chinese students and in 1991 kept hundreds of Kuwait citizens from being deported. President Bill Clinton regularly used his power of prosecutorial discretion to limit deportations; in 1993 he gave 18-month extensions to Salvadoran residents, in 1997 he limited deportations for Haitians, and in 1998 he limited deportations to Central American counties that had been devastated by hurricanes.

220px-George-W-BushPresident George W. Bush also took major steps to limit deportations on humanitarian grounds. In 2001, he limited deportation of Salvadorian citizens at the request of the Salvadorian president who said that their remittances were a key part of their nation’s economy. The Bush administration embraced prosecutorial discretion and ordered the consideration of factors such as whether a mom was nursing a child or whether an undocumented person was a U.S. military veteran in making the determination on whether to order a deportation.

Obama’s conservative opponents will no doubt howl in protest and will dire utter threats over Obama’s actions. They will seek to mobilize their base and bring in a flurry of donations to help “take Obama down.”

But they will lose in the end. And the Latino community will remember who it was that attacked them and who defended them when the next election rolls around.

Obama boxing poseTo use a boxing metaphor, the bell has rung on “Round 1” in the post-election battle. Both parties are moving to the center of the ring poised to do battle, and the sparring has begun. It should be interesting to see who flails in the wind and who ends up landing the decisive blow.

Photo credit: AP

The Face of a Child

TO GO WITH AFP STORY: MEXICO-MIGRATION -Something strange is going on along the United States’ southern border.

Thousands of children, most unaccompanied by adult relatives, are crossing from Mexico and immediately turning themselves in to the Border Patrol.

These children are not illegal Mexican immigrants. In fact, the vast majority are not from Mexico at all. Most come from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. They have travelled many hundreds of miles, faced enormous danger, and endured extreme hardship in hope of finding safety within America and being reunited with family members there.

Border Patrol Riverine Unit Rescues Child Stranded on Rio GrandeUnder current law, the Border Patrol is required to take child migrants who aren’t from Mexico into custody, screen them, and transfer them to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (a part of the Department of Health and Human Services). The law tasks HHS with either finding a suitable relative to whom the child can be released, or putting the child in long-term foster care.

Once this is done the child’s case slowly works its way through the immigration court system. The problem is that immigration workers have become completely overwhelmed by a sudden rise in the number of child migrants crossing the U.S. border.

The Obama administration claims that 47,017 unaccompanied children, from all countries, were apprehended by Border Patrol agents in the first eight months of fiscal year 2014.

This represents a 90% increase from the previous year. And here is where the problems begin.

The laws passed by Congress under the Bush administration put Border Patrol agents in charge of screening immigrant children, and holding them for up to 72 hours before they are transferred to HHS.

But this diverts the Border agents from their other duties.

[The] Border Patrol’s job isn’t to deal with immigrant children, but rather to catch criminals crossing the border.

Child detention centerSimilarly, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has neither the staff nor the facilities to adequately care for all of these children, many of whom are quite traumatized by their recent ordeals. Once the child has been either placed in foster care or a detention centre, their case begins working its way through the immigration courts system, a process that may take more than two years due to a lack of immigration judges and a mounting backlog of cases.

In the meantime these children are often housed under appalling conditions. Their suffering and hardship should melt even the hardest hearts.

What is to be done about this situation? As I see it, there are three possible ways of addressing the problem: dealing with 1) the current symptoms, 2) the root causes, or 3) the actual consequences.

1) Dealing with the current symptoms means stopping the influx of these child migrants crossing the border. Some have called for sealing off the border entirely. But this is practically impossible considering the many miles of isolated and even mountainous terrain that would have to be covered.

House Speaker John Boehner has suggested calling out the National Guard to patrol the border.  But that doesn’t really make sense. What are these armed troops going to do –shoot these children if they dare to step across the border? We need to keep in mind that

We are not talking about war. We are talking about children—many younger than 10—who have experienced horrible conditions in their home countries and on the journey, and who are alone and scared.

2) Addressing to the root causes is ideally the right thing to do. But without a massive effort to effect fundamental changes on an enormous scale (something probably well beyond the U.S.’s ability) it will not change the current situation. Nevertheless, the U. S. should take responsibility for its role in the creation of this problem. That’s right. The problem didn’t just happen on its own. The U. S. has had a direct role in the creation of the problem.

The migration of children and families didn’t just start recently. It has been going on for a long time, although the numbers have recently surged. The tide of migration from Central America goes back to wars that the U.S. promoted in the 1980s, in which we armed the forces, governments or contras, who were most opposed to progressive social change. Many hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans came to the U.S. during the late 1970s and 80s, to say nothing of Guatemalans and Nicaraguans. Whole families migrated, but so did parts of families, leaving loved ones behind with the hope that some day they’d be reunited. …

Kids looking for families here are looking for those who were already displaced by war and economic crisis. The separation of families is a cause of much of the current migration of young people. Young people fleeing the violence are reacting to the consequences of policies for which the U.S. government is largely responsible, in the only way open to them.

3) If one can’t undo the root causes or change the current symptoms, then one is left to deal with the actual consequences. By which I mean the humanitarian crisis that the U.S. now faces. As one commentator has put it, the bottom line is simply this:

Child migrantWe need to show compassion and take care of these children who have traveled thousands of miles from three of the most dangerous countries in the world. They deserve a hearing to determine if their claims are valid, and we should treat them humanely throughout that process, while sending resources to expedite it.

The child migration crisis requires us to look in the mirror and ask some hard questions of ourselves. After all,

The arrival of large numbers of children on our doorstep is not a physical menace to us. Nor is it an unsustainable financial burden. It is not a legal or bureaucratic matter either. Instead, it is a moral issue of how we choose to define ourselves as a country.

Sometimes we have to look into the face of a child to find out who we really are.


Photo credits: Donna Burton; Omar Torres/AFP/Getty; AP