An April 21 article in the New York Times ("Latinos and Democrats Press Obama to Curb Deportations") reports that the White House is coming under increased pressure from Congressional Democrats, Latinos and immigrant groups to slow down the rate of deportations by giving exemptions to certain classes of people, including those in same sex marriages with US citizens, students who would have benefited from the DREAM Act if it had passed and even, according to one proposal, parents of US citizen children. The Republicans, led by anti-immigrant Senator Charles E. Grassley, are reacting with predictable fury against the supposed evils of "amnesty". The country is being split more than ever on racial lines, something that cannot bode well for the future of the Republicans, given the fact that Latinos and other minorities are increasing more rapidly than whites.
One might think that purely out of strategic self-interest, the Republicans would at least try to slow down their lemming-like rush over the immigration cliff. The most likely explanation of their refusal to do this is that the GOP is so used to exploiting racial politics that it does not know how to change its course. The Republicans' pro-segregation "Southern Strategy" dating from the Nixon era is not so far in the past, and the transition from targeting African-Americans to targeting Latinos and other non-white immigrants has been almost seamless.
But where is the Obama administration in all of this? As usual, the White House is trying to equivocate, split the difference and reach some kind of an accommodation with opponents who have no interest in compromise. Even though, to be fair, the administration claims to have given 34,448 exemptions from deportation, according to the same New York Times article, the White House insists that its goal is to push for an overhaul of the immigration laws, rather than to use its administrative powers to try to reduce the injustice and hardship of mass deportation.
There is only one problem with this approach. It is as likely to succeed as the Roman poet Juvenal would have been in finding a "rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima cycno" ("a rare bird on earth, just like a black swan") in his Satire written 2,000 years ago, when black swans were not just rare, but competely unknown. With the 2012 election approaching and the Tea Party radicals in the ascendancy in Congress, the chances of compehensive immigration reform passing are more remote now than ever.
The hypocrisy of the administration's approach is also apparent from the litigation over Arizona's immigration law. The administration has argued, so far successfully, that Arizona's effort to interfere with the federal government's discretion over immigration enforcement is unconstitutional. How can the president fight in court to uphold federal discretion over enforcement policy, while at the same time denying that he has the administrative power to slow down the mad rush toward deportation which is threatening to tear this country apart and betray its fundamental values as a nation of tolerance, fairness and opportunity for all?
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.