Barack Obama: the nativist President
Source Louis Proyect
Date 14/04/11/13:04
More Deportations Follow Minor Crimes, Records Show

With the Obama administration deporting illegal immigrants at a record
pace, the president has said the government is going after “criminals,
gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students,
not after folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out
how to feed their families.”

But a New York Times analysis of internal government records shows that
since President Obama took office, two-thirds of the nearly two million
deportation cases involve people who had committed minor infractions,
including traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all. Twenty
percent — or about 394,000 — of the cases involved people convicted of
serious crimes, including drug-related offenses, the records show.

Deportations have become one of the most contentious domestic issues of
the Obama presidency, and an examination of the administration’s record
shows how the disconnect evolved between the president’s stated goal of
blunting what he called the harsh edge of immigration enforcement and
the reality that has played out.

Mr. Obama came to office promising comprehensive immigration reform, but
lacking sufficient support, the administration took steps it portrayed
as narrowing the focus of enforcement efforts on serious criminals. Yet
the records show that the enforcement net actually grew, picking up more
and more immigrants with minor or no criminal records.

Interviews with current and former administration officials, as well as
immigrant advocates, portray a president trying to keep his supporters
in line even as he sought to show political opponents that he would be
tough on people who had broken the law by entering the country
illegally. As immigrant groups grew increasingly frustrated, the
president held a succession of tense private meetings at the White House
where he warned advocates that their public protests were weakening his
hand, making it harder for him to cut a deal. At the same, his opponents
in Congress insisted his enforcement efforts had not gone far enough.

Five years into his presidency, neither side is satisfied.

“It would have been better for the administration to state its
enforcement intentions clearly and stand by them, rather than being
willing to lean whichever way seemed politically expedient at any given
moment,” said David Martin, the deputy general counsel at the Department
of Homeland Security until December 2010. “They lost credibility on
enforcement, despite all the deportations, while letting activists think
they could always get another concession if they just blamed Obama. It
was a pipe dream to think they could make everyone happy.”

Various studies of court records and anecdotal reports over the past few
years have raised questions about who is being deported by immigration
officials. The Times analysis is based on government data covering more
than 3.2 million deportations over 10 years, obtained under the Freedom
of Information Act, and provides a more detailed portrait of the
deportations carried out under Mr. Obama.

The demographics of those being removed today are not all that different
from those removed over the years. Most are Mexican men under the age of
35. But many of their circumstances have changed.

The records show the largest increases were in deportations involving
illegal immigrants whose most serious offense was listed as a traffic
violation, including driving under the influence. Those cases more than
quadrupled from 43,000 during the last five years of President George W.
Bush’s administration to 193,000 during the five years Mr. Obama has
been in office. In that same period, removals related to convictions for
entering or re-entering the country illegally tripled under Mr. Obama to
more than 188,000.

The data also reflect the Obama administration’s decision to charge
immigration violators who previously would have been removed without
formal charges. In the final year of the Bush administration, more than
a quarter of those caught in the United States with no criminal record
were returned to their native countries without charges. In 2013,
charges were filed in more than 90 percent of those types of cases,
which prohibit immigrants from returning for at least five years and
exposing those caught returning illegally to prison time.

“For years, the Obama administration’s spin has been that they are
simply deporting so-called ‘criminal aliens,’ but the numbers speak for
themselves,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National
Immigration Law Center. “In truth, this administration — more than any
other — has devastated immigrant communities across the country, tearing
families away from loved ones, simply because they drove without a
license, or re-entered the country desperately trying to be reunited
with their family members.”

Administration officials say the deportations are a result of a decade
in which Congress has passed tougher immigration laws, increased funding
for enforcement and stymied efforts to lay out a path to legal residency
for the bulk of nation’s 11.5 million illegal immigrants. “The president
is concerned about the human cost of separating families,” said Cecilia
Muñoz, the White House domestic policy adviser. “But it’s also true that
you can’t just flip a switch and make it stop.”

In the spring of 2012, Mr. Obama announced a way for illegal immigrants
who came to the United States as children — so called “Dreamers” — to
avoid deportation. Facing a new wave of protests, he announced two weeks
ago a review of the administration’s deportation programs in an effort
to make them “more humane.”

Republicans immediately pushed back, warning that the changes he had
already made had weakened enforcement. Despite the record deportations,
they said his shift in emphasis to the border had resulted in a decline
in the removals from the interior of the country — a trend borne out by
the records. And while immigrant advocates and some leading Democrats
are outraged by the administration’s policy of penalizing illegal entry
at the border, many Republicans have accused the administration of using
those cases to inflate its deportation numbers.

“The administration has carried out a dramatic nullification of federal
law,” said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama. “Under the
guise of setting ‘priorities’, the administration has determined that
almost anyone in the world who can enter the United States is free to
illegally live, work and claim benefits here as long as they are not
caught committing a felony or other serious crime.”

The information on 3.2 million cases, obtained from Immigration and
Customs Enforcement, or ICE, log every removal handled by the agency but
do not provide enough information to determine which cases represent
repeated deportations of the same person.

In places like Painesville, Ohio, a small town on the shore of Lake Erie
sustained for decades by immigrants who work in greenhouses and
factories, the spate of deportations has been felt one person at a time.

Anabel Barron, who has lived in the United States for nearly two
decades, was facing deportation after being stopped for speeding and
driving without a license. Her record showed that she had been removed
previously and she said she returned to be with her four American-born
children. At a regular Tuesday night meeting of immigrants at a
converted church, she was fretting about her coming hearing.

“I am afraid of being deported,” she said. “But for my children it’s
worse. They don’t sleep the same. They don’t eat. They don’t want to go
to school because they are afraid I am not going to be there when they
get home.”

Promise Collides With Reality

Deportations began rising sharply in the final years of the Bush
administration. Having failed to win comprehensive reform in part
because opponents argued that sufficient progress had not been made in
securing the borders, that administration undertook a sweeping
immigration crackdown. It stepped up military-style raids on factories
and farms and granted local police the authority to check the
immigration status of foreigners they suspected of being in the country
illegally. Deportations reached 383,000 in 2008.

Congress supported the moves, doubling the immigration agency’s budget
to $5.5 billion in 2008, and imposed a mandate that required the
immigration agency to detain a daily average of 34,000 immigrants.

Mr. Obama attacked those policies during his 2008 campaign, saying,
“When communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids, when nursing
mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school
to find their parents missing, when people are detained without access
to legal counsel, when all that’s happening, the system just isn’t
working.” He criticized his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain of
Arizona, for abandoning the push for immigration reform when it became
“politically unpopular,” and promised to make it a priority in his first
year in office.

But that promise collided with the reality of the recession and the
bruising fight to get a financial stimulus package through Congress. “We
did stimulus, and then, as we calculated the rest of the agenda, we saw
health care as possible, energy as sort of possible, but super hard, and
immigration as impossible,” said a former senior White House official.
“The votes just weren’t there.”

Like Mr. Bush, both Mr. Obama and his first Department of Homeland
Security secretary, the former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano,
believed that to win comprehensive reform, they needed to demonstrate a
commitment to enforcing existing laws. The Obama administration set out
to keep deportation numbers up, but to make enforcement “smarter.”

Immigration officials set a goal of 400,000 deportations a year — a
number that was scrawled on a whiteboard at their Washington
headquarters. The agency deployed more agents to the border, according
to several former immigration officials, where finding and removing
illegal immigrants is legally and politically easier. The administration
attempted to tread more carefully in the interior of the country, where
illegal immigrants have typically been settled longer. It ended the
worksite raids and rolled back the local police’s broad discretion to
check foreigners’ immigration status. Instead, it expanded a pilot
project started under Mr. Bush that required the state and local police
to check everyone fingerprinted during an arrest.

The change was made partly to address charges of racial profiling, but
the new program — called Secure Communities — greatly expanded the pool
of people who were checked, ICE officials said. And those found living
in the United States illegally could be turned over to the immigration
authorities regardless of the charges against them.

A June 2010 memo from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement director
at the time, John Morton, for the first time set priorities for
enforcement. They included any immigrants who had entered the country
illegally, overstayed visas or had ignored prior deportation orders,
regardless of their criminal history or how long they had lived in the
United States. Although the memo was meant to focus enforcement, the
categories were so broad, former officials of the immigration agency
said, that they easily covered a third of the country’s 11.5 million
illegal immigrants.

The administration also broadened the use of expedited proceedings,
which gave illegal immigrants limited opportunities to consult a lawyer,
seek asylum or present extenuating circumstances to judges. The number
of expedited removals nearly doubled from the Bush to the Obama
administrations. The Obama administration also expanded the pursuit of
people who had failed to comply with previous deportation orders. And a
majority of them involved immigrants who either had no criminal history,
or had been convicted for immigration or traffic offenses.“Even as we
recognize that enforcing the law is necessary,” Mr. Obama said in a 2011
speech in El Paso, “we don’t relish the pain that it causes in the lives
of people who are just trying to get by and get caught up in the system.”

Torn Families in Ohio

Painesville, Ohio, 30 miles east of Cleveland, offers a snapshot of some
people caught up in the system. Every Tuesday night at a
nondenominational church downtown, several dozen immigrant families cram
together to talk about ways they can help loved ones who are either
facing deportation or who have already been removed. The stories spill
out so fast, and they all seem to share the same general narrative arc —
immigrant drives through red or yellow light, police officer asks for
driver’s license, immigrant lands in Immigration and Customs Enforcement
custody, children reel from uncertainty.

“It’s been hard without my husband here,” said Elizabeth Perez, a
35-year-old American-born woman and a former Marine who briefly served
in Afghanistan. Her husband was deported to Mexico in June 2010 after
the police detained him during a traffic stop and the authorities found
14-year-old misdemeanor charges for assault and marijuana possession.

As she spoke, her 3-year-old son was fidgeting wildly in her arms and
tugging on her long hair. Her 4-year-old daughter had plopped onto the
floor and began screaming for her mother’s attention. “We were supposed
to do this together,” she said, trying to quiet her restless brood.
“Raise the kids, I mean.”

Esperanza Pacheco, who said she has lived illegally in the United States
for 20 years, was detained with her husband three years ago for
illegally re-entering the country. He was deported, but he was allowed
to return after winning a court fight last year. And her deportation has
been temporarily suspended. Still, she said, the ordeal hangs over her
four daughters. The eldest of the girls, 16-year-old Esmeralda
Moctezuma, piped up, “School is hard because we feel like people are
pointing at us.”

An informal tally among the immigrants gathered that recent Tuesday
night found a total of 22 people who either had a spouse who had been
deported or were in deportation proceedings themselves. All told, those
parents had 59 children. All but nine of the children were born in this

Five of them had fathers who were deported, and two of the men had died
of exposure in the Arizona desert trying to make it back to their families.

The last word David Lomeli’s three children had of their father was the
note from forensics officials who found his remains in July 2012. It
read, “Subject was lying on his stomach with his head facing north. He
was lying on a ripped-open black trash bag. The body was in an advanced
state of decomposition with the skull fully exposed. He was wearing blue
jeans (no shoes, socks or shirt). Subject appears to have been at this
location for approximately one month.”

Half a dozen of the children had dropped out of school to help fill the
void left by their fathers’ deportations. “It’s like a light that was
inside of them has gone out,” said Manuela Martinez, referring to her
six sons.

In April 2010, an 11-year-old girl named Arlette Rocha, with long brown
hair and a cherub’s cheeks, was found hanging from the stairway at home
in an apparent suicide some eight months after her father was deported
to Mexico. Her mother had taken a job on the second shift at a local
plastics molding factory, forcing Arlette to take care of three younger

When the family petitioned to have the father’s deportation reversed,
Dr. Archie S. Wilkinson, who had tried to resuscitate Arlette, wrote a
letter to authorities, pleading with them to return him for the sake of
her surviving siblings.

Dr. Wilkinson wrote that in his view, Arlette had been suffering “from
the profound grief of missing her dad, and the extra burden placed on
her when their family’s main support was taken away.” He ended, writing,
“Please give this family a chance.”

One teenager’s plea reached all the way to the White House. Ivan
Maldonado, 18, who lives in what has become a typical mixed-status
immigrant household, was 3 years old when his parents illegally moved
him and an older brother to the United States from Mexico. His parents
had four more sons in Ohio. Then in 2010, their father was deported
after the authorities found he had failed to obey a previous removal order.

His mother has been allowed to stay to take care of the children, and
Mr. Maldonado and his older brother have been granted temporary legal

In 2011, Mr. Maldonado, who recently dropped out of high school to work
at the same factory that once employed his father, went on a trip to
Washington organized by advocates where he shared his story with Ms.
Muñoz, Mr. Obama’s lead adviser on immigration. “She told me she would
never forget me,” he recalled. “It made me feel that maybe there was
hope my dad might come home.”

Anger at Obama

The issue of deportations has reached the White House repeatedly,
turning immigration into a contentious issue between Mr. Obama and the
Hispanic and Asian communities that are a critical part of his political

“We assumed that a Democratic president who wanted to move immigration
reform would not pursue a strategy of deporting the people who he was
intent on legalizing,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the
Center for Community Change. “That was a totally wrong assumption. And
there is a lot of anger about that.”

One of the first confrontations played out in March 2010, when immigrant
organizations announced plans to hold a march in Washington to demand
that Congress pass immigration reform and that Mr. Obama stop the
expansion of Secure Communities. Three former administration officials
said the White House quickly began an effort aimed at damage control,
summoning leading immigrant advocates to meet with the president.

Having just emerged from a bruising fight for health care reform, the
president saw the sudden pressure from immigration groups as a betrayal,
the former aides said. But, at the White House meeting, the advocates
also expressed betrayal.

“They were like: ‘This deportation thing is important. Families are
being ripped apart,’ ” recalled a former senior White House official,
who requested anonymity to recount the meeting. “They’re almost crying.
Their faces are turning red. Every one of them had a story.”

Chung-Wha Hong, the former executive director of the New York
Immigration Coalition, recalled that the president “kept saying that he
was not above the law, and that if we were suggesting that he stop
enforcing the law then there was no point in continuing the
conversation.” She added: “We weren’t asking him not to enforce the law.
Our point was simply that there were things he could do to protect good
people from bad laws.”

At some point, the former White House official recalled, the president
made clear he had heard enough.

“Finally the president was like, ‘Hey, you know what? You don’t have to
convince me. I’m dealing with a Congress that won’t move on this, and
the politics they’re looking at won’t force them to move,’ ” the former
official said, recalling Mr. Obama’s words, and adding, “So the thing we
should spend our time talking about is what can you do and what can I do
to change the political calculus.” The former official said that the
meeting ended with Mr. Obama and the advocates both angry, and the
immigration march in Washington went ahead as planned.

Last month, facing renewed pressure, Mr. Obama announced that he had
ordered his new secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson, to review
deportation programs. “When you hear enough stories about separating
families or removing people who are not truly dangerous,” Mr. Johnson
said, “it leads you to want to dig in to make sure you’re getting the
policy and the implementation right.”

Janet Murguia, the president of the National Council of La Raza, the
country’s largest Hispanic civil rights organization, joined a growing
chorus of unions, religious groups and immigrant advocacy organizations
that have labeled Mr. Obama the nation’s “deporter in chief,” and
demanded that he make good on his promises to protect immigrant families
from unfair removal policies. The pressure has prompted similar calls
from leading congressional Democrats, including some of Mr. Obama’s
closest allies, who are worried about, among other things, the impact
deportations may have on Hispanic turnout in this year’s midterm elections.

After ordering the review, Mr. Obama called the advocates together
again. While the White House hoped to intensify pressure on Republicans
for comprehensive reform, the advocates had all but given up hope, and
have instead directed much of their attention — and outrage — at the

Mr. Obama asked them to skip the stories of pain and suffering, not
because he did not care, but because he felt it more productive to
discuss strategy for winning permanent relief, people who attended the
meeting said.

The odds were not good, Mr. Obama acknowledged. But he asked the
advocates to stick with him another 90 days, and press hard on Congress.
If those efforts failed to lead to reform, Mr. Obama said he would work
with them on administrative relief. The advocates and others told the
president that their communities had waited long enough.

“When the president told us he was going to only go after criminal
aliens, we all said, ‘OK, go do that, but don’t go after people whose
only crime is that they’re living here undocumented,’ ” said Richard
Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. who attended the meeting.
“But that’s not what happened. Now immigrant communities are feeling
under attack. And it’s hard for them to focus on trying to win reform,
when they’re afraid they could be pulled over for running a red light,
and get torn away from their families.”

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