Don't let Obama off the hook: Anti-immigrant hysteria isn't just a Republican problem

While the president looks like a saint compared to conservatives, his administration has a spotty record at best

By Eesha Pandit
Published January 22, 2016 9:28PM (EST)
  (AP/Reuters/Rick Wilking/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Nati Harnik/Photo montage by Salon)
(AP/Reuters/Rick Wilking/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Nati Harnik/Photo montage by Salon)

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court said that it would consider a legal challenge to President Obama’s executive action on immigration.

A little over a year ago, the President ordered the creation of two programs -- Deferred Action for Children Arrivals, or DACA, and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA. These programs would allow undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children or are the parents of citizens or of lawful permanent residents to apply for a program that would spare them from being deported and provide work permits. Up to 5 million undocumented immigrants could be eligible for the reprieve as a result of DACA and DAPA.

Almost immediately after the president’s announcement, the attorney general of Texas, Republican Ken Paxton, led a coalition of 26 states in filing suit against the president. Meanwhile, many immigrant-rights activists have hailed these executive actions as a crucial step in making the American immigration system more just. In his Oval Office address announcing the executive actions, the president told millions of undocumented immigrants, “You can come out of the shadows.”

The news of the Supreme Court’s intent to take up this case comes at a time when the Obama administration has ramped up an aggressive deportation operation. First reported by the Washington Post. at the end of last year, the recent raids conducted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency mark “the first large-scale effort to deport families who have fled violence in Central America.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said of the raids,

“This is consistent with the kinds of priorities that the President himself has talked about; that our enforcement efforts need to be focused on deporting felons, not families, and with a particular focus on individuals who have only recently crossed the border.”

These policies are earning President Obama the dubious recognition of “Deporter-in-Chief.” To make the case, over 150 organizations signed a letter in which they charge the Obama administration for causing a “state of fear” among immigrant communities.  The letter says that, “Raids would convey the message that these families are a threat to border security, when the reality is that most are asylum seekers in need of humanitarian protection.”

Ana Milena Ribero, a scholar at the University of Arizona calls this phenomenon “brownwashing.” Milena Ribero describes it as “the rhetorical strategy of saturating the political and commercial discourse with support for a popular social cause (e.g. gay rights) while maintaining practices and policies antithetical to the supposedly supported cause.”

Parallel to what LGBTQ activists and scholars have termed “pinkwashing,” this concept describes the nature of the contradiction that would enable the Obama Administration to, on one hand, seek amnesty for children and parents, but on the other, to conduct ruthless raids under cover of night that split apart immigrant families and leave entire communities devastated in their wake.

Importantly, this contradiction is not lost on Latino communities in the U.S, especially since the numbers tell a troubling story: Since coming to office in 2009, the Obama Administration has deported more than 2.5 million people— a 23 percent increase from the George W. Bush presidency. Even more remarkably, according to a report from Department of Homeland Security, this administration is now on pace to deport more people than the sum of all 19 presidents who governed the United States from 1892-2000.

While, administration officials claim that their strategy of raids and deportations is meant to deter undocumented immigrants from crossing the border, due to an increase in violence and instability in much of Central America, the number of children and families crossing the border has risen in the past few months. These families are desperate for reprieve from the poverty and danger in their home countries, a situation that is arguably the direct result of U.S. policies in the region. While such “free-trade” policies are often touted as important for the the American economy, several reports have documented that this system of trade has undermined democracy in Central America, resulting in corruption and volatile economies and communities.

In an election year, these policies are worrying many Democrats seeking office. A group of 140 House Democrats sent a letter to President Obama demanding that he halt the raid operations.  All three major candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, including Hillary Clinton, have denounced the raids. Senator Bernie Sanders forcefully denounced the raids, sending the President a letter saying, “Raids are not the answer,” and adding “I urge you to immediately cease these raids and not deport families back to countries where a death sentence awaits." Secretary Clinton, speaking through a spokesperson in late December said, that she has "real concerns" about the crackdown and that "it is critical that everyone has a full and fair hearing, and that our country provides refuge to those that need it."

Clearly, the immigration will be a campaign issue for Democrats and Republicans alike. With the Supreme Court’s ruling on DACA and DAPA expected in June, as the primaries come to a close, it will surely open up a national conversation on immigration. The Court’s ruling will indeed be a referendum on the Obama Administration’s executive actions, but notably, it will also open up a national conversation about the administration’s broader, more complicated legacy, on immigration.

Eesha Pandit

Eesha Pandit is a writer and activist based in Houston, TX. You can follow her on twitter at @EeshaP, and find out more about her work at

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