Meeting at the White House & Obama's Promise for Change

Posted by Mark Hetfield on Thu, Aug 20, 2009 at 11:59 am

At today's meeting Secretary Napolitano proved by a show of hands that representatives from more than 100 faith, business, union, and human rights groups meeting in the White House on Comprehensive Immigration Reform all agreed on one thing - the Immigration laws of the United States - as written - do not work.

The existing laws keep families apart, do not respond to labor market needs, and do not provide sufficient disincentives for those unscrupulous employers who seek competitive advantage by employing undocumented workers under illegal working conditions.

President Obama, in a surprise appearance at the meeting, emphasized that the American people sent him to the White House to fix things, and that the immigration laws need fixing. The President said that fixing the immigration laws - and "not being shy" about enforcing them - are a priority for his Administration. He assured participants that, with health care reform now on the front burner, immigration reform will be a priority for 2010.

President Obama and Secretary Napolitano made it clear that our immigration laws are broken and need to be fixed.

So far, however, we have seen the Administration continue efforts to vigorously enforce the broken system, but little to actually fix it. A number of attendees at the Conference lamented that Secretary Napolitano's major Border Security address in El Paso on August 11 did not call for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Many advocates urged Napolitano to more clearly communicate that the Administration needs her as a leader in the campaign to comprehensively reform these broken laws. At the conclusion of the meeting, Secetary Napolitano indicated she understood that she needs to communicate this message publicly and effectively.

Perhaps today marks the turning point.

Secretary Napolitano also made the point that the Administration is pursuing "smarter" enforcement of the existing laws, and HIAS and many others made the point that the enforcement of our ineffective laws is not nearly smart enough.

For example, as HIAS pointed out during one of the sessions, young law-abiding adults who have lived here since childhood continue to get deported because their parents did not bring them here legally. Such deportations should be deferred until the law can be fixed by the Dream Act, as adult children should not be punished - or deported - for the transgressions of their parents. Removal resources should not be expended on deporting people like Herta Llusho - a 19 year old electrical engineering major, honor student, and community volunteer who was to face deportation yesterday because her parents kept her in the United States without legal authorization from the age of 11. At the last minute, her removal was temporarily deferred only after a major community campaign to keep her in the United States.

The Administration continues to talk about creating more appropriate "civil" detention conditions in the future, but has not yet rescinded the Bush Administration policies which reversed the Clinton Administration's policy favoring the release of non-criminal asylum seekers. HIAS reminded the Administration that it could repeal the policy today, to prove that detention reform is more than mere talk, and enforce the Clinton-era policy, something which ICE failed to do when it was in effect.

If the Administration is not yet in a position to fix the broken immigration system, I hope today marks the beginning of a vigorous effort to set the stage this year for fixing it next year….with much smarter enforcement in the meantime.

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