“President Obama has deported 2 million people, more than any other president in the history of the United States. That means that we as a community of immigrants are suffering. Every single day 1,100 people are deported.”
—Carlos Rosa, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
On Wednesday, it seemed—if you were watching cable news—the entire world was focused on whether President Obama would go to the Texas-Mexico border and see the crisis unfolding there. It really was a hot issue most of the day. Texas congressman and Democrat Henry Cuellar was quoted on nearly every program. He said,
It is a humanitarian crisis, and he can either do two things. One, as a leader, he can be defiant and say I’m going to roll up my sleeves and see the humanitarian crisis. Or he can look detached, appear detached and say I’m doing everything long distance.
I heard Illinois congressman Luis Gutiérrez say that President Obama should go down to border and wrap his arms around those Central American children. Later in the day, on CNN’s Crossfire, Gutiérrez appeared and was asked a very important question by left-leaning co-host Van Jones. Here’s the way Jones set up his question:
JONES: I do not understand why we haven’t heard Democrats much more passionate about the right of these young people to stay here.
In other words, when you’re fleeing a terrorism, when you’re talking about murders, kidnappings, rape, and children are flooding, not just into the United States but into every country in that region, and they say, “I want to get to America,” I think we should be proud of that. They’re not saying, “I want to go to China.” They’re saying they want to come here.
But instead, what you hear is the White House saying, “Don’t worry. We’re going to get rid of these people.” Hillary Clinton: “Don’t worry. We’re going to get rid of these people.” Does that bother you? It bothers me.
GUTIERREZ: It does bother me. I wish the president of the United States were going down and visiting the children and visiting the site tonight.
Today, the great Charles Pierce published a piece titled, “Why Obama Must Go To The Border Immediately.” He wrote:
There is a massive and growing humanitarian crisis on our southern border. The president can’t be drinking a beer and shooting pool in Colorado, while laughing off the offer of a joint, while we’re rounding up unaccompanied refugee children and sticking them in Army camps. He wasn’t elected to be fundraiser-in-chief. He wasn’t elected even to be the leader of the Democratic party; that’s an honorific that comes with the day job. He was elected to lead the whole country, and it does the country no good to have him up there at a press conference, even telling the truth about the inexcusable dereliction of duty in the Congress and talking airily about how he wouldn’t participate in “theater.” That’s every bit as tone-deaf as anything his predecessor ever said on any subject. Henry Cuellar is absolutely right. This is politically idiotic and morally obtuse. And Joan Walsh is right. This is about more than “optics.” The simple fact that the president is declining to go to the border while Glenn Beck is on the way down there with hot meals and soccer balls is a prima facie abdication of responsibility. It’s also goddamn embarrassing.
Pierce finished with this:
Right now, and very soon, a child that has gone through hell and back to get here is going to look up one morning, and the face of America, the face of charity and, yes, the face of Hope and of Change in their lives, is not going to be Barack Obama. It’s going to be Glenn Beck. I am not comfortable with that at all.
What person in their right mind would be comfortable with that?
I will tell you why I think President Obama, who has to know how bad it looks, will not go to the border and symbolically wrap his arms around those refugee-children: Because he does not want to look into the eyes of one single child who he is practically pledging to send back home, possibly a child who will end up dead within months of returning. That’s why he is so stubborn about going to the border. Our president is a father with kids of his own. We know he is a good and decent and caring man. We’ve seen that demonstrated, time and again. And we know that good and decent and caring people can’t look into the eyes of desperate kids and tell them, well, “Go back to the hell you came from.”
Van Jones asked the right question, at least the right question for Democrats. Does it bother us simply to say that most of those kids from Central America should be sent back home?
In his statement yesterday, the President said,
While we intend to do the right thing by these children, their parents need to know that this is an incredibly dangerous situation and it is unlikely that their children will be able to stay. And I’ve asked parents across Central America not to put their children in harm’s way in this fashion.
It is unclear what doing the right thing by those children will actually mean by the time this present crisis has waned. But it seems clear that, to President Obama, doing the right thing by them will involve most of them going back to very dangerous and depressing places. especially those who have to go back to El Salvador and Honduras. Just how that is “the right thing” will be something Mr. Obama will have to account for at some point.
Think about it: If most of these children are sent home, we know that it is likely that at least one of them will soon after come to some harm, perhaps die a horrific death at the hands of gang members. And we will hear about it. Then Mr. Obama, who now champions sending them back home, will have to ask himself if he is glad he joined forces with Governor Rick Perry, and other Republicans who hate his presidential guts, and became the send-them-back champion.
The President said something yesterday that troubled me greatly, after I had time to think about it. Describing his discussion with Rick Perry, he said:
So the bottom line is, actually, that there’s nothing that the Governor indicated he’d like to see that I have a philosophical objection to.
Perhaps Governor Perry said something in private to President Obama that differs from what he has said publicly. Or perhaps it is the case that our Democratic President is in philosophical agreement with a far-right governor from Texas, who has gone out of his way on this issue to falsely accuse Obama of either incompetence or of some kind of conspiracy. If the President is truly in philosophical agreement—as opposed to political agreement born out of compromise—with people like Rick Perry, I am worried about the moral integrity of the Democratic Party.
Yesterday Tea Party Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson went on right-wing Newsmax TV, which then reported his remarks this way:
“I’ve gone online and have taken a look on Orbitz and taken a look at what does it cost to fly people to El Salvador and Guatemala and Honduras,” Johnson, a Republican, said. “You have fares as low as $207. There’s nonstop flights at $450.”
“You take those numbers and it costs somewhere between $11 million and $30 million to return people in a very humane fashion,” Johnson said.
“We can put them up in a hotel room and make sure they get a shower and feed them,” he added.
That’s right-wing, Christian compassion (Johnson is a member of the conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod). It would be “very humane” to give them a room and a shower and some food before you necessarily ship them back to the misery they were trying to escape from. The report on Senator Johnson’s comments added:
Johnson said this would be “a far easier way of handling” the situation, and it would also “send the signal to the folks in Central America that you can’t come into America and expect to stay.”
How’s that much different from what President Obama said yesterday? He told us that part of his $3.7 billion emergency budget request to Congress involved retaining “some flexibility in terms of being able to preserve the due process rights of individuals who come in, but also to make sure that we’re sending a strong signal that they can’t simply show up at the border and automatically assume that they’re going to be absorbed.” Judging by the rhetoric coming from the White House lately (and from someone who wants to occupy the White House again), the emphasis is more on the “sending a strong signal” back to Central America than preserving “the due process rights” of desperate kids. And while I understand that thinking, I believe the emphasis should be the other way around. We can’t ignore the fact that the decision by parents to send their kids on a dangerous journey to the United States is often a rational one.
Earlier this week, speaking of the immigration issue as a whole, Luis Gutiérrez said:
Just as Republicans have said, ‘No, no, no,’ I expect the president to be broad, expansive and generous in the use of his prosecutorial discretion.
Yes. We all should expect President Obama to be broad, expansive and generous when it comes to this issue. You know why?
Because he is a Democrat.