Christine M. Flowers: Being an immigrant in U.S. means it's not exactly party time

Posted: October 26, 2012

WAITING FOR your case to be called at immigration court can be a sobering experience. Myths are eroded, if not outright shattered. You realize that there are no "noble" immigrants reminiscent of the haloed travelers through Ellis Island, nor are there purely diabolical terrorists who want to turn this country into a caliphate. The people you tend to see at these hearings, most of which are held in nondescript federal buildings with splintered benches and bad lighting, are disappointingly normal. If the immigrants lost the accents and apprehensive looks, they could blend at any Walmart, doctor's office or tea-party gathering. So could their foreign-born, American-raised teenagers who have no accents.

Unfortunately, the political climate of 2012 does not allow us to humanize this vast class of beings. Both parties use them for their own self-interested purposes, and almost 20 years practicing in the field has convinced me that when it comes to political footballs, foreigners are kicked the hardest and the furthest.

Republicans, with rare exception (namely, George W. Bush), like to conflate immigration with, take your pick: terrorism, leprosy and TB outbreaks, unemployment or reduced wages for American workers, crime waves and dead Border Patrol agents. There is a microscopic kernel of truth in each of those claims, but a kernel does not a bushel of corn make. And while Republicans make every effort to tell you that they support "legal immigration," they are woefully uninformed about the length of that line that leads to the "right way." In fact, it doesn't exist. And one of the reasons it doesn't exist is that the GOP has stonewalled almost every effort at immigration reform.

Democrats, on the other hand, pretend to care about immigrants. They put on those "we-feel-your-pain" masks modeled after the first black president who perfected the art of pulling the wool over your eyes and then forcing you to knit the sweater. Democrats care as much about immigrants as Republicans, which is to say, not at all. They do, however, have a much better PR organization and have managed to snooker a large percentage of the Hispanic community (because as we all know, the only immigrants in all of America come from Mexico) into believing that its last great hope lies with four more years of Barack Obama.

So, let's take a close look at what the president has done over the past 1,500 or so days, especially the first 700 or so, when he had a Democratic majority in Congress. Despite repeated promises during the last presidential campaign, Obama presented no new immigration legislation to Congress. He did try to resubmit the plan worked out by President Bush, a true and unheralded friend to the immigrant community dating back to his days as governor of Texas. But that lukewarm effort came to nothing. After that, we heard crickets. Or should I say, cucarachas.

And on to health-care reform!

After that hard-fought battle, which left a lot of people licking their wounds, it's understandable that Obama would have abandoned the hot tamale of immigration. But did he have to go full force to the other extreme, deporting more people in his first term than Bush did during his entire eight years? The official line is that most of those deported, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, were criminal aliens. The reality is that most of the people sent back had no criminal record at all.

Don't get me wrong: I'm happy to see criminals removed from these shores, since we have enough of the Made in America kind to satisfy our national quota. But it's important that the fallacy of the compassionate liberal be debunked, since there is nothing truly compassionate about dividing-up families.

Obama has recently issued an executive order attempting to do through the back door what he couldn't do through the front, which is to implement a watered-down Dream Act. Under that initiative, certain individuals who were born abroad but brought here as children are able to go to school, obtain work authorization and avoid deportation, at least temporarily. It's something. But the timing of the move is suspect, particularly since it went into effect exactly 2 1/2 months before Election Day.

Coincidence? As my nephew has taken to saying: no way, Jose.

The point is this. Neither party deserves to be embraced by the immigrant community. Conservatives scapegoat it, and liberals patronize it in the hopes of getting swing-state votes. But, maybe, it's time to give the GOP a chance to redeem itself.

Or let's put it in another context: You've been dating one guy for four years. It's comfortable. Another guy comes along. He's risky. But if the current beau has been promising a wedding ring and never produces, take his sweet nothings for what they are: nothing. And move on.

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. Email:

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