With the defeat of the DREAM Act, the Obama Administration’s "Deportation First" immigration policy – to expel record numbers of undocumented immigrants to obtain buy-in from the GOP on comprehensive immigration reform – has proven not just an epic political failure, but one with grotesque human costs.
Doubts over a strategy to deport hundreds of thousands of immigrants as a quid pro quo for Republican support on CIR were present from the start. As detailed yesterday by the Washington Post,
Whenever Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and other immigrant-rights advocates asked President Obama how a Democratic administration could preside over the greatest number of deportations in any two-year period in the nation's history, Obama's answer was always the same.
Deporting almost 800,000 illegal immigrants might antagonize some Democrats and Latino voters, Obama's skeptical supporters said the president told them, but stepped-up enforcement was the only way to buy credibility with Republicans and generate bipartisan support for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.
On Saturday, that strategy was in ruins after Senate Democrats could muster only 55 votes in support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a measure that would have created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
The New York Times is charitable in its analysis:
Part of the administration’s strategy has been to ramp up border and workplace enforcement to attract Republican votes for the overhaul. The vote on Saturday made it clear that strategy has not succeeded so far.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Democrats again will take consolation in the belief that the GOP’s opposition has further alienated an expanding Latino voting bloc -- a bloc that has coalesced around the Democrats largely because of the party's stated promises to get CIR done. But with the Democrats string of failures to deliver even on plainly meritorious legislation with bipartisan support like the DREAM Act, their consolation is misplaced. Latino voters, although holding the GOP in negative regard, will likely view the Democrats as incurably inept at best and insincere at worst and therefore unworthy of enthusiastic support -- support the Dems desperately need to counter Tea Party exuberance in 2012. Latino voters turned out in strength for the Democrats in the midterm elections, arguably saving their majority in the Senate. What will rally Latino voters now that the Democrats have serially failed to enact CIR or DREAM? This likely enthusiasm gap will haunt any Democratic presidential hopeful offering warmed-over promises on immigration reform.
Beyond the policy debates and legislative post-mortems of the DREAM Act defeat, one key issue has been lost regarding Obama and the Democrats' high-profile failure here. With nothing to show for his high-pain, no reward strategy, President Obama has much to account for, having ordered a catastrophic mass deportation policy large enough to clear out the City of San Jose, California. The incalculable human toll on America’s families, employers, and communities by deporting 800,000 immigrants is breathtaking. Families are broken, employers are scrambling to find critical workers, and entire neighborhoods and towns are desolate.
The Administration’s iron-fisted strategy to find support for humanitarian immigration reform brings to mind the old Vietnam war dictum, “To save the town, it became necessary to destroy it.” To obtain a just solution for America's undocumented immigrant community, the Obama Administration has found it necessary to assail, deplete, and strike fear into its heart. And the failure does not stop there, as ICE Chief John Morton has officially signaled that deportations will continue apace. The President's moral arrogance, that he could build a just solution for the 12 million undocumented and their mixed-status families, by deporting hundreds of thousands of non-citizens in the foolish hope of placating a malevolent and uncompromising opposition, has been a classic Obama "teachable moment". Because there can be no doubt now as to the total disregard of America's immigrants in the Obama White House.