Why Some Progressives in the Democrat Debate Really Attacked Obama Policies on Immigration

by Alex Gonzalez

The second night of the first Democratic debates tapped into something that Progressives seldom discuss publicly.  Building on what was created under George W. Bush administration under Secure Communities, Obama built a deportation infrastructure that surpassed the W. Bush administration.

Let’s be honest and say from the start that the criticism of Obama Immigration policies by Kamala Harris and the “one-percenters” was entirely intended as an attack on Joe Biden who leads in every single poll with Hispanics. And many Hispanics, mostly Mexican-American organizations and politicians, still resent Obama’s deportation Immigration policies and his lack of dedication to pass an Immigration Bill when Democrats had a Super Majority in Congress.

During the debate Kamala Harris said  

“I disagreed with my president because the policy was to allow deportation of people that by ICE’s own definition were non-criminals. as California’s attorney general she issued a directive that her state did not have to comply with immigration detainers and should instead make decisions based on public safety of the community.”

Few other candidates  also jump on to the anti-Obama/anti-Biden van wagon arguing that Obama policies were detrimental to immigrant communities.

Nonetheless, while the criticism is purely a political attack on Joe Biden’s record, Obama’s record on Immigration is very real.

Obama’s  Immigration record shows that Obama was never a real friend to Mexican-Americans and Mexico the same way that President George W. Bush was; Obama was young progressive from Chicago that knew very little about Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. And Obama’s record with Mexico and his lack of attention to Mexican-Americans in the U.S. is only overlooked by Trump’s anti-Mexico and anti-immigrant policies of “zero tolerance” the cages Hispanic children and separates families.

This public display of anti-Mexico theme and draconian Immigration policies against Hispanics from Central America by Trump and his supporters can make many Latinos in the U.S. think that Obama was a better friend to Mexico and Mexican-Americans and all Latino groups. But they will be wrong. Obama was never a real an Allie of the interests of Mexican-Americans, especial on Immigration.

Obama’s Ivy league intellectual Progressivism did not allow him to really understand the culture of Latinos in the Southwest, which are predominantly Mexican-American. He did emphasize that “Latinos,” especially Millennial, Latinos were part of the “Obama Coalitions” that voted for him in 2008, and kept him in office in 2012. But in his core progressive ideals, he was never really in close relations with Mexican-Americans the same way W. Bush who grew up among Mexican-Americans in Texas and Mexican immigrants. Obama was not from the southwest and had never been close to Mexican-Americans before becoming President.

That is the one key factor for Obama’s  administration’s unneighborly aloofness. 

Mexico has made dramatic strides since the North American Free Trade Agreement was passed in 1993. A majority of its population is now middle class, and President Enrique Peña Nieto has made steady progress on major reforms in the energy, education and financial sectors.

President W. Bush spent eight years building cultural and economic ties with Mexico, When Obama become President in early 2009, he spent his first two years in the White House undoing all the deals and partnerships George W. Bush built with Mexico.

Moreover, in those first two years, Democrats had a Super Majority in Congress, but under the leadership of Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff to Obama, they refused to pass an immigration bill and instead used all their political muscle pushing for Obamacare, and  Ram Emmanuel was one of main obstacles to reform immigration, according to some Hispanics Congresswomen.

This “barrier” between Hispanic Congressmen/woman and Obama built by Emmanuel may suggest that Obama did not know or understood Mexican-Americans Hispanic issues and he relied heavily on others for advice. And that is how he embraced the generic “Latino” political theme is his speeches without focusing on Mexico and Mexican-Americans.

Between 2010 and 2014, after the Democrats lost the House, Obama wanted to pander Republican anti-immigrant crowd in the House that demanded that he improve deportations in order for Republicans to support an immigration bill. And he did. But he got played.

But Obama got played by Republicans in the House; they never really supported any bill or had plans to support any bill, as it was publicly displayed by former Speaker John Boehner who mocked his House colleagues as cry-babies every time the issues of immigration arose.


Obama became known as the deporter-in-chief by Latino legal advocacy organizations like La Raza and MALDEF because, in only few years, he deported more immigrants than President W. Bush did in his entire eight years in offices using programs known as Secure Communities and 287 (g), a program he inherited from W. Bush. Some argued that Obama turned the program into a deportation machine breaking apart thousands of hard working families with no criminal record, about 60% of all those Latinos deported under Obama had no criminal record.

The Mexican government was disappointed when Obama failed to achieve the comprehensive immigration reform he had promised. It was pleased, however, that the administration continued the Mérida Initiative, a program begun under Bush that is aimed at beefing up Mexico’s police and judiciary in their efforts against the drug gangs.

The Bush approach to Mexico: More Free Trade and Practical Immigration Reform and Family Values

When his Presidency began, President Bush, being from Texas, had an affinity toward Latinos. In his first official trip abroad, Bush went to Mexico and came up with the Guanajuato Proposal: Mexico and the United States will now focus on resolving mutual pressing problems. The Fox – Bush Summit in Guanajuato promised a new era for the US-Mexico. Mr. Bush stated that Mr. Fox “is the kind of leader that Mexico has needed for a long time. This Fox-Bush combination “could turn out to be a great blessing for both Mexicans and Americans alike. In 2001, Sep 7th, 4 days before 9/11, Vicente Fox spoke before a joined Session of congress. But, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this new vision suffered a severe regression.

And even though the 9/11 attacks created a new level of suspicion between the two nation, President Bush kept pushing forward to bring Mexico and the U.S. together. He brought Canadian Prime Minister Martin and President Fox to Texas where the leaders three leaders signed the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America—partnership to increase the free flow of goods and to harmonized trilateral policies in North America. At the same time, Bush persuaded the Republican U.S. Senate to pass and comprehensive immigration reform, which would also have guaranteed a guest-worker program to supply low-skilled worker to the US labor.

In 2007, President Bush enacted a pilot program to allowed Mexican firms to operate in the U.S.. But Obama signed an unrelated bill that canceled a George W. Bush-era pilot program in the US and designed to grant temporary access to Mexican cross-border truckers. The plan was in preparation for a larger inclusive US-Mexico trucking program.

The Obama approach to Mexico: Less Trade More Deportations of Latinos

However, upon becoming President, Obama signed a legislation suspending the pilot program created by Bush allowing a limited numbers of trucking firms to operate within in areas of the US. Obama was persuaded by labor unions, which have backed the ban in its various incarnations and opposed some other trade initiatives, including efforts to conclude a trade pact with Colombia.

Obama also gradually abandoned the  Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America.

On immigration, Obama has promised Mexico the creation of legal frame-work for the free flow a legal immigration. But instead, Obama has neglected all promised made to Latino Voters in the U.S. and the Mexican Government. Moreover, in implementing Secured Communities, which by all accounts was supposed to secure the U.S. and Communities across the nation, the Obama Administration has managed to use Secured Communities to deport Latinos (U.S. citizens and not), separate families, and drown out opportunity. In fact, this Administration has done more to discourage, separate families, and harm the Latino community than any other previous Administration, Republican or Democrat. In a study done by the Berkley School of Law and the Cardozo Law Center, the Obama Administration deported 400,000 Latinos in one year using the Secured Communities as an excuse. The current number point to estimated 1,200, 000 of deportation under Obama, which over 90% happens to be Latino.

Unlike President George W. Bush who persuaded Republicans to support Mexico, Trump has persuaded Republicans in Congress and his base to show tough stances against Mexico and to fall-in-line to support and try to rationalize  the Construction of “wall” and support for his zero tolerance policies.

And while it is true that Later Obama tried to appeased Latino complaints with DACA in 2012, and subsequently DAPA in December of 2014, but just like the Senate Bill in 2013-14, Republicans were able to stall the implementation of DAPA “executive order” in 2016. Obama also in 2014 officially ended Secure Communities after tow separates federal ruling found “detainers” unconstitutional.   But these were just consolation prizes after Obama had ran out of real policy alternatives in Congress as Republicans regain control in both chambers Congress.

Trump is the most anti-Mexican President of the last fifty years – at least in public, and his policies are aimed at stirring anti-Mexican sentiment and inflicting economic pain on Mexico. This is a de-volution from where the Republican party was when George W. Bush was President.  But Obama was was not a great friend to Mexico, as many “Latinos” may assume. Trump has turned the Republican party into an anti-Mexico propaganda machine – while covering up for Russia – and Trump makes Obama come across as a good friend of Latinos (Mexican-Americans), even if he was not as President.

Again, most of the criticism of Obama’s policies during the debate by these progressives was a deliberate attack on Biden and most of ideas proposed by Kamala Harris were unrealistic and only via executive orders.

However, presidential Executive Order are no real policies solutions.

DACA, and the subsequently Executive Order DAPA, were a result of the Obama agenda that neglected Latino/Mexican-American voters in his first term while pushing other progressive policies. A federal Judge in Texas stopped DAPA and it eventually died in the Supreme Court, and Trump rescinded DACA, now pending decision by SCOTUS.

As a result,  unless there are realistic proposals with congressional legislation, no one should believe that Immigration can be fixed with Executive Orders.

Alex Gonzalez is a political Analyst, Founder of Latino Public Policy Foundation (LPPF), and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote. Comments to vote@latinosreadytovote.com or @AlexGonzTXCA

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