As the Obama presidency nears its twilight, let me tell you about our leader’s eight-year, largely-disappointing record on immigration.
But first a bias alert: I voted for the President twice; I like and respect him; and I marvel at how glib, cool, incisive, studious, and otherwise mostly big-hearted he’s been. With favorability ratings nearing 60 percent, he’s seen by most Americans and citizens of other countries as consistently suave, temperate, well-spoken, thoughtful, and unflappable.
What’s more, he’s been right on most domestic and foreign policy choices, including health care, the resuscitation of the U.S. auto industry, deficit reduction, global climate change, positive engagement with Iran, and a breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations.
His has been a corruption-free presidency that only a handful of predecessors have rivaled. His signature achievement, available health care for almost all Americans, though imperfect and needing tweaks, stands as a Mt. Everest that no president heretofore had scaled.
The inheritor of an economy on life support suffering sky-high unemployment, a peerless dad and husband, a role model for aspiring Horatio Algers and stand-up comedians everywhere, and a surprisingly talented singer and dancer, President Obama has turned the country around on virtually every metric (other than immigration). He’s done this despite unceasing opposition and insults from all stripes of Republicans and a bloviating right-wing media that spewed hatred and false memes, while sowing unwarranted doubts about his citizenship, his faith, and his very legitimacy.
Despite the few modest immigration improvements he can rightly claim, future historians will likely rue his most despicable actions – his uncharacteristic heartlessness and intransigence on strict immigration enforcement against asylum-seeking moms and kids, and his Guinness-worthy record of deporting mostly low-level immigration violators, while these anti-immigrant measures had been fueled by his naive and ultimately unfounded hope that the GOP would therefore engage with him on comprehensive immigration reform.
Historians will no doubt point to his many missed immigration opportunities, and downgrade his proclamation of several well-intentioned Executive Actions in late 2014 that, by the end of Term Two, have produced less-than-half-a-loaf results.
His immigration outcomes, as detailed below, will ultimately be seen as having violated the apt medical injunction (“First, do no harm), while also calling to mind Walter Mondale’s disparaging query (“Where’s the beef?”).
Alas, he will be remembered – quite unfortunately – for these immigration bungles and stumbles (most of which have been reported in this blog):
- Broken promises on comprehensive immigration reform during first year in office when Dems ruled.
- A failure of oversight of federal departments and components responsible for decisions whether to grant or approve requests for immigration benefits such as work visa status, work permission and lawful permanent residency.
- High-flown promises on Executive Actions but no holding of immigration bureaucrats’ feet to the fire, with (as noted) more stringent and less generous outcomes on immigration benefits.
- Acquiescence in unlawfully strict legal interpretations, narrow grants of immigration benefits, and burdensome document demands by unaccountable adjudicators.
- New, stricter rules and proposals on L-1B visa eligibility international entrepreneurs, and adjustment of status portability.
- The absence of anything resembling true “Visa Modernization.”
- The failure to publish comments on draft policy memorandums so that the public would know what other commenters had proposed
- An out-of-control Administrative Appeals Office which engages in ex parte discussions on policy with USCIS engineered and which orchestrated the highly disruptive, outrageously expensive and wholly unnecessary ruling in Matter of Simeio.
- Failure to pursue APA rulemaking for DACA/DAPA which formed the basis for his district court loss in Texas v. United States.
- Incorrectly claiming he lacked authority to provide relief and then belatedly (but albeit correctly) exercising executive authority in a wide array of immigration programs.
- Failure to materially improve persistently bad immigration technology (ELIS and the talking bot, Emma [although preexisting email software known as Emma already existed).
- Acquiescence in ever higher filing fees without insisting that USCIS first establish and stick to reasonable processing times
- Expansive exercise of worksite enforcement authority while I-9, and E-Verify problems persist
- CBP and ICE abuses too numerous to mention.
- The Justice Department’s haughty insistence on finalizing without virtually no change its harsh antidiscrimination rules which tip the scales of justice in favor of DOJ attorneys, allowing them to enforce strict liability claims and unlawfully broaden the population of individuals protected against citizenship status discrimination to include noncitizens.
At least one recent good thing, however, makes me happy – his elimination of the discriminatory NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System) which intentionally targeted nationals of countries with predominantly Muslim populations.
In the final analysis, I like and admire President Obama, but not much for his immigration policies and misguidedly tolerated practices. I clearly was naive to have hoped for far more enlightened activism on immigration from a man whose Kenyan father was hounded out of the United States by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Harvard for dating a white woman.