At Netroots Nation, Felipe Matos of the Trail of Dreams caught White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer in two lies, yesterday: (1) Obama "hears from DREAM Act Students all the time," and (2) Obama "does not have the executive authority [to stop the deportations of DREAMers]."
The first lie is probably the greatest disrespect to the migrant youth movement. It is not widely known that Obama refuses to meet with undocumented people himself. Undocumented youth have certainly confronted him at public events, but Obama refuses to meet with undocumented people to talk with them about an immigration system that is doing violence to them.
Felipe Matos would know that Obama refuses to meet with undocumented people because he himself walked 1,500 miles from Miami, FL, to Washington, D.C. only to be denied a meeting with Obama. Obama has met with currently documented former DREAMers, but not with undocumented youth themselves. Felipe himself makes this clear in the video, only to be dismissed by Pfeiffer:
Felipe Matos: He has spoken to people who are not DREAM Act-eligible, people who are not undocumented, because he has made it very clear that he doesn't want to talk to undocumented people.
Dan Pfeiffer: I don't think that's accurate.
Felipe Matos: I mean I was in meetings with Valerie Jarrett when she told me that so I know it's accurate.Netroots Nation (17 June 2011)
While the first lie is disrespectful to the migrant youth movement, it is probably the second lie that does the most violence to migrant communities. Obama does have the power to grant administrative relief to migrant communities. The Immigration Policy Center has made that very clear.
As a former teacher of constitutional law, and as the signatory of nearly 80 Executive Orders, President Obama understands that the role of the Executive branch of the U.S. government has never been limited to blindly enforcing laws passed by the Legislative branch. In fact, the effective implementation of any law (criminal law, tax law, environmental law, securities law, etc.), requires the Executive branch to interpret that law and develop strategies to implement it. Every new administration brings its own set of values and priorities to this task. That is why federal regulations, policies, and procedures change from administration to administration.
This fundamental fact has been repeatedly recognized by the Obama Administration outside of the immigration context. Speaking in 2008, President Obama’s transition chief, John Podesta, noted: “There’s a lot that the President can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we’ll see the president do that.” Speaking in 2010, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer observed: “The challenges we had to address in 2009 ensured that the center of action would be in Congress. In 2010, executive actions will also play a key role in advancing the agenda.”
Dan Pfeiffer lied to Felipe Matos, pure and simple, just as Obama has been lying to Latino voters across the country.
I'm struggling a little bit with categorizing these as lies so blatantly right now, primarily because I feel an unproductive narrative of liberal anger at Obama is emerging from Netroots Nation. Were I to craft my own productive narrative of why Obama needs to provide administrative relief to migrant communities, it would go something like this:
We're not asking Obama to ignore the laws that are already on the books, as broken, unjust, and violent as we feel those laws are. What we are saying is that the Obama administration has limited resources to enforce the law, and that his administration should use those resources wisely. At a time when the federal government is struggling with a growing deficit, it makes no sense to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars detaining and deporting young people who know no other country as their home, or any undocumented people with strong and productive ties to their communities in the U.S. for that matter. Even with the Obama administration deporting over 400,000 people a year, now, the undocumented population continues to hover at around 11 million people. There's even research to suggest (pdf) that heavy enforcement actually increases the undocumented population in the U.S., not because more people are coming in, but because less people want or are able to leave.
If Obama continues to force pro-migrant voters to choose between helping to elect him, and stopping the deportations of our family members, friends, and peers, guess where we're going to put our energy? Dreamers have regularly shown the ability to mobilize tens of thousands of people to stop their deportations one-by-one. Wouldn't Obama prefer that they direct their energy at convincing or electing lawmakers who can change the laws, rather than have us continue to direct our energy at his administration?
As it gets closer and closer to election time, pressure is going to increase on the pro-migrant movement to shut our mouths lest we help elect a nativist Republican to the presidency. It's difficult to say where different pro-migrant groups will fall as that pressure increases but I can say that I certainly won't help elect someone that continues to decimate my community. With Obama deporting more people that George W. Bush ever did, and now implementing a program, [In]Secure Communities, which would turn every local police officer into a border patrol agent by 2013, there might even be situations where a Republican president would be better for the pro-migrant community.
In other words, does Obama want to continue wasting limited resources and grassroots energy by continuing to deport folks who don't need to be deported, or does he want to save money and direct that energy towards lawmakers who should be taking responsibility for fixing this unjust immigration system? I hope the answer is clear and that Obama grants migrant communities administrative relief.
Kyle de Beausset is a pro-migrant blogger at Citizen Orange.