Have We Been Unfair to Obama on Deportations?

A once-indiscriminate deportation policy has shifted toward a much more careful approach.

Leon Krauze is a journalist and host of Fusion TV's Open Source, a news and commentary program.
National Journal
Leon Krauze, Fusion
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Leon Krauze, Fusion
April 16, 2014, 6:36 a.m.

On my show, Open Source, I re­cently in­ter­viewed Dolores Huerta, per­haps the most im­port­ant Lat­ina wo­man of the 20th cen­tury. Near the end of the in­ter­view, I wanted to get her take on Pres­id­ent Obama’s con­tro­ver­sial de­port­a­tion policy. Huerta, I found out, does not mince words.

“Obama mis­cal­cu­lated,” she told me flatly.

She went on to ex­plain how the pres­id­ent ad­op­ted a pun­it­ive ap­proach to­ward de­port­a­tion in­ten­ded to con­vince the Re­pub­lic­an Party of his tough­ness on im­mig­ra­tion en­force­ment. The hope was to bring the op­pos­i­tion on board for a com­pre­hens­ive over­haul of the coun­try’s im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem. In­stead, he got noth­ing in re­turn.

Even after Obama set a re­cord pace for de­port­a­tions, Re­pub­lic­ans still said he “couldn’t be trus­ted” on the is­sue. As a res­ult of this “mis­cal­cu­la­tion,” the pres­id­ent now faces an un­ex­pec­ted and com­plex chal­lenge with the His­pan­ic com­munity. Obama is un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure from Latino groups to act on his own to cut back the num­ber of de­port­a­tions, es­pe­cially of people who have fam­il­ies in the U.S.

Yes, the same man who in 2008 prom­ised change while bor­row­ing Cesar Chavez’s (and Dolores Huerta’s) fam­ous line, “Yes, we can,” has now been dubbed the “de­port­er-in-chief.”

It can seem an un­fair turn of events, but Obama has earned it. After five years of bru­tally ef­fect­ive im­ple­ment­a­tion, the pres­id­ent’s well-oiled de­port­a­tion ma­chine has now man­aged to re­move and ex­pel close to 2 mil­lion people. Num­bers of that mag­nitude al­low few sub­tleties.

Even less so when it comes to pub­lic per­cep­tion; nu­ances are few and far between these days. For the last five years, His­pan­ics in Amer­ica have heard ba­sic­ally two story lines:

a) The Re­pub­lic­an-con­trolled House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives has failed to sup­port any sort of com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form, and

b) Barack Obama is de­port­ing His­pan­ics.

With some hind­sight, the White House surely could have pre­dicted that the lat­ter nar­rat­ive would pre­vail. A story that in­volves the per­sist­ent suf­fer­ing of hu­man be­ings will al­ways prove more in­ter­est­ing (and thus, more polit­ic­ally dam­aging) than a story that fol­lows bor­ing polit­ic­al pro­ced­ure.

So, be it by a stroke of luck or some sort of Ma­chiavel­lian scheme, the Re­pub­lic­ans — who are the real op­pon­ents of im­mig­ra­tion re­form — have re­ceded to the back­ground. Ad­vocacy groups con­cen­trate on de­noun­cing Obama’s de­port­a­tion policy rather than on keep­ing the pres­sure on the House GOP.

Truth be told, we His­pan­ic journ­al­ists have fol­lowed the same pat­tern. For the last few months, we have fo­cused al­most solely on the “de­port­er-in-chief” nar­rat­ive, ef­fect­ively grant­ing the Re­pub­lic­an Party a thor­oughly un­deserved res­pite. This is both mor­ally un­der­stand­able and journ­al­ist­ic­ally jus­ti­fi­able. But, truth be told, it might not be com­pletely fair. Or — dare I say it — bal­anced.

The fact is, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­port­a­tion ma­chine has been im­prov­ing its meth­ods and act­ing with an in­creas­ing sense of dis­cre­tion. As we all know, at the be­gin­ning of the Obama pres­id­ency, Im­mig­ra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment and oth­er agen­cies ex­ecuted the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s policy in­dis­crim­in­ately. Obama’s polit­ic­al gamble res­ul­ted in the de­port­a­tion of hun­dreds of thou­sands of un­doc­u­mented mi­grants who had no pri­or crim­in­al re­cord.

In oth­er words, the Amer­ic­an gov­ern­ment kicked thou­sands of people out of the coun­try whose only form­al sin had been com­ing here without pa­pers. These were fath­ers and moth­ers, and young kids, of course, who had been brought to this coun­try at a very early age (the now fam­ous dream­ers).

This massive de­port­a­tion sys­tem has caused, without any doubt, an un­ne­ces­sary and shame­ful hu­man­it­ari­an crisis. No one in their right mind could cast doubt over wheth­er this is a somber chapter in Barack Obama’s pres­id­ency.

But journ­al­ism de­mands rig­or. And re­cent num­bers show that this in­dis­crim­in­ate de­port­a­tion policy has shif­ted to­ward a much more care­ful ap­proach. In 2013, the total num­ber of un­doc­u­mented people with no crim­in­al re­cord and no pri­or im­mig­ra­tion vi­ol­a­tions who were de­por­ted after be­ing de­tained in the coun­try’s in­teri­or was drastic­ally re­duced. In 2009, the num­ber was close to 150,000; by 2013, the num­ber be­came 10,336.

That’s why the ques­tion stands: Have we been un­fair to Obama? The an­swer is, mostly yes. De­port­ing 2 mil­lion people — most of whom don’t pose a danger to their com­munit­ies — is a costly mis­take. But it’s also true that any re­cent cri­tique of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s policy on de­port­a­tion should al­low for much needed nu­ances, es­pe­cially in the light of re­cent de­vel­op­ments.

There really is no point in de­noun­cing a crisis without the ca­pa­city to identi­fy pro­gress when it be­comes evid­ent.

Le­on Krauze is a journ­al­ist and the host of Fu­sion TV’s Open Source, a news and com­ment­ary pro­gram.

This art­icle is pub­lished with per­mis­sion from Fu­sion, a TV and di­git­al net­work that cham­pi­ons a smart, di­verse, and in­clus­ive Amer­ica. Fu­sion is a part­ner of Na­tion­al Journ­al and The Next Amer­ica.

What We're Following See More »
The New Yorker Endorses Clinton
55 minutes ago

The New Yorker has endorsed Hillary Clinton, saying that "barring some astonishment," she will become the next president. Calling Clinton "distinctly capable," the magazine excoriates Donald Trump as a candidate who "favors conspiracy theory and fantasy, deriving his knowledge from the darker recesses of the Internet and 'the shows.'" Additionally, the historical nature of the possibility of "send[ing] a woman to the White House" is not lost on the editors, who note the possibility more than once in the endorsement.

AT&T Seeks to Buy Time Warner
1 hours ago

AT&T agreed to a deal on Saturday to buy Time Warner Inc. for a reported $85.4 billion, a merger that would turn AT&T into a media giant. The two companies announced that they hope to have the deal closed by the end of 2017. However, the completion of the deal will likely not be smooth sailing, as the deal faces potential backlash from antitrust workers, as well as lawmakers. Following the merger's announcement, multiple lawmakers raised skepticism and said they plan to scrutinize the deal further, with Minn. Sen. Amy Klobuchar calling for a hearing.

Las Vegas Review-Journal Backs Trump
2 hours ago

The Las Vegas Review-Journal, owned by casino magnate and GOP donor Sheldon Adelson, became the first major city newspaper to endorse Donald Trump over the weekend.“Mr. Trump represents neither the danger his critics claim nor the magic elixir many of his supporters crave,” the editorial read, acknowledging concerns about Trump’s temperament. “But neither candidate will ever be called to the dais to accept an award for moral probity and character,” the paper said. “And we are already distressingly familiar with the Clinton way, which involves turning public service into an orgy of influence peddling and entitlement designed to line their own pockets — precisely what a disgruntled electorate now rises up to protest.”

Clinton Leads by 12 in ABC Tracking Poll
2 hours ago

Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 12 percentage points among likely voters, 50 to 38 percent, in a new ABC News tracking poll, "her highest support and his lowest to date in ABC News and ABC News/Washington Post polls. Gary Johnson has 5 percent support, Jill Stein 2 percent. Clinton led by only four points in the last ABC/Post poll on Oct. 13.

Obama to Endorse 150 Down-Ballot Democrats
2 hours ago

President Obama "will make a late splash into races for state senate and assembly over the next week, endorsing roughly 150 candidates across 20 states. He’ll also back a candidate for the North Carolina Supreme Court. The endorsements — which will come along with a variety of robocalls, social media posts, mailers, photos of Obama with the candidates taken as he’s been traveling to campaign in recent weeks, and even a few radio ads — are Obama’s biggest investment in state races ever by far."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.