President Barack Obama’s decision this week to suspend deportations of certain young illegal immigrants is as empty, and as cynical, as his support for gay marriage this past spring. On a policy level, it means nothing: the suspension only lasts for two years and requires illegal immigrants to report themselves to a government agency. It is plain politics–and worse, since by Obama’s own admission his decision violates the Constitution. The real victims are millions of legal immigrants who did things right–or are still waiting, patiently, for visas.
I was one of those immigrant kids brought here by my parents when I was a very young child. They did it the right way. So did my wife, who immigrated to the U.S. from South Africa after studying at Harvard. When she graduated from college in 2009, she suffered the effects of the Obama administration’s anti-immigrant labor policies, such as the Employ American Workers Act, which kept her out of the financial jobs for which she had trained. She finally–and proudly–became a U.S. citizen through her service in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
Immigrant families who want to honor this country’s freedoms by respecting its laws often spend thousands of dollars and countless hours negotiating the intricacies of the federal immigration bureaucracy. President Obama has just stomped on those sacrifices. Instead of honoring legal immigrants, he has denigrated us. He has also shown that the leader of the nation has no respect for the Constitution that the lowliest new citizen must swear to uphold. As a first-generation American himself, on his father’s side, he ought to know better.
Those so-called immigrants’ advocacy groups who are applauding Obama’s decision–which does not even have the formal legitimacy of an executive order–should remind themselves why people want to come to the United States in the first place. The rule of law that we enjoy protects our fundamental freedoms and makes economic growth and innovation possible. Without that rule of law, we would have neither liberty nor prosperity. All that President Obama has done is undermine the rule of law, without creating any real benefit for immigrants. I suspect–and hope–that the voters at whom Obama’s gesture was aimed will understand just how little he thinks of them, and will refuse to reward him for his pandering.
Photo credit: Joe Eskenazi, SF Weekly