Immigration is a highly painful subject in America, and has been instrumental in polarising the already divided public opinion.
President Obama has time and again promised to deal with the issue but has encountered strong opposition from various quarters, especially the Republicans and those on the far right. While politics in Washington is a messy business and it is nothing but miraculous to find the Congress actually being able to get something done, the president has incessantly worked hard for immigration reform.
Soon after late last year’s House and Senate defeats at the hands of the Republics, Obama, a Democrat, decided to break the immigration stalemate and announced wide range reforms that essentially safeguarded the human rights of undocumented aliens and ensured that their existence in the United States was based on the principles of respect and equality.
When one discusses immigration, rather immigration reform, in the US, one must never forget that more than anything else, this is a political issue. There’s plenty of foot dragging and horse-trading and just like anywhere else in the world, politicians in the US are not immune to histrionics and emotional tantrum throwing. There’s not much substance in political, social or media debates when it comes to tackling gun violence, immigration or health reforms or same sex marriage. Passions overpower, reasoning and logic make a quiet exit while politicians bicker and bark to no end.
The November 2014 presidential immigration decree neither granted clemency nor gave amnesty to undocumented aliens. Obama just adjusted the ground realities to facilitate the easing in of hundreds and thousands of folks who roam around the streets of the country without legal documentation. The main objective of introducing reforms was to make the teeming undocumented millions an active part and parcel of the American economic system. Once documented, they could be hired by corporations, pay taxes and become functional members of the society.
Let’s face it, for the most part, people who cross US borders with or without documentation with the intent to stay come here for the sake of economic uplift and better standard of living. They are not criminals, thugs or murderers. However, there’s a certain segment of the society, and that includes the educated, prosperous Americans, who think and believe that documenting illegal folks and letting them into the fold of American stratosphere is against our values and hence atrociously un-American. To them, emancipation of the weak, the needy and those who toil hard to make ends meet despite being undocumented will rock the socio-economic balance and destroy the very fabric of American norms and traditions.
Such a thought process is obviously flawed and disruptive. America is a nation of immigrants and its foundations are based on welcoming new people, new blood, new ideas, new opportunities and foster stronger links and ties amongst different ethnicities and communities.
Unfortunately, there are people like Judge Andrew Hanen who rise to higher rungs of the society and find themselves disconnected with the ground realities. Justice Hanen is a remnant of the Bush II era and an anti-immigrant, ultra-conservative federal judge who represents a crop of Americans who want to shut off borders and say no to all forms of immigrant activity. Hanen is pretty much a virtual ‘soul mate’ of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, who has made a mockery of America’s image and immigration system and prides himself as a tough talking, hate spitting racist whose sole aim of life is to harass folks that look ‘different’.
Hanen, like many others, thinks that the issue of immigration is tied to border-related crime and draining of states’ resources. Last year’s executive order, as a matter of fact, was signed to counter crime as well as protect America’s economic interests. Being a political appointee with a strong sense of conviction of saying no to new immigrants, on February 16, 2015, Justice Hanen delivered a judgment that may end up having a large-scale impact and far-reaching repercussions on the overall immigration system. One of the major effects will be the administration’s inability to move ahead with accepting applications for deportation protection from the undocumented aliens.
It appears that a group of like-minded, anti-immigration states gathered up resources and looked for a specific judge who was apprehensive of the November 2014 immigration executive order. In Justice Hanen they found an ideal candidate and filed the suit against the presidential order in his court. The state of Texas was at the forefront of activity and played a key role in moving ahead with the suit.
On the day, the US eastern half was inundated by massive snowstorms, and Judge Hansen was busy writing his ruling in a relatively warm Brownsville, Texas. Soon after the politically motivated ruling came out, there was an expression of overwhelming surprise and anger all over the place. While the decision obviously shocked those who were happily waiting for the day when they could file applications to legalise their status, Hanen, at least for the time being, dashed hopes of the anticipants to the ground. The White House was quick enough to declare that the ruling was a hindrance toward the lawful, common sense policies from taking effect.
President Obama himself stated that he disagreed with the ruling and that the attorney general of the United States will appeal against it. He maintained that his executive order was well within the authority to implement laws that are beneficial for America and the American people. His order will protect the country’s borders and filter out elements that are involved in human trafficking and other illegal practices. To ship off tons of families out of the US who have been keeping their heads down and contributing to the economy will be nothing but unrealistic, according to the president.
To be fair on the president, despite being embroiled in other crises that have marred his tenure in the White House, he has tried a bunch of times to convince the Congress to fix the broken immigration system. However, the Congress, led by the likes of the good for nothing speaker John Boehner, has only a one-point agenda and that is to fail and shoot down any initiative that comes from the White House. Boehner and his buddies have made it their life mission to spoil Obama’s legacy and have variously branded him as a Muslim, a foreigner, pro-Iran and unpatriotic. Of course, none of these ‘allegations’ are true and such political gimmickry is only meant to capture people’s imagination and score political points.
Contrary to the ambitions and designs of his opponents, President Obama’s major steps have been so far a smashing success. Measures such as the Affordable Healthcare Act and the Dream Act have yielded positive results. No presidency is perfect and Obama’s six plus years in office are no exception to the rule.
Moreover, just like the Republicans have tried to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act almost 50 times, Justice Hansen’s decision will also only prove to be a minor setback and a trivial hurdle. It’s a matter of time when the deserving, undocumented immigrants of this country will find themselves standing on a firm legal footing, no longer afraid of being apprehended by the authorities.
In the twilight of his presidency, it seems that after years of struggling to work with the Congress to implement his plans, Obama is willing to man up and fly solo by using his power to legislate via executive orders. The constitution provides him the authority and precedents empower him. Whereas Washington refuses to act, the president is firing on all cylinders and making things happen. A lot needs to be done and one wishes him God speed for his last two years in office.
In the meantime, before my readers start judging me or get an impression that I’m condemning or sermonising my adopted country, that is the US, let me categorically say that I love America and I’m proud to be an American. Being so, therefore, I cherish the values of this nation and wish for peaceful coexistence. By the same token, I am a diehard believer of freedom of expression that gives me the right to vent my thoughts and have opinion on matters that I consider important for the country and its people.
Immigrants are the lifeline of this society and everyone and anyone who is here trying to make a difference in their lives, obeys the laws, pays their bills and taxes should be allowed to live here in peace.
The writer is a Washington DC based journalist who has written extensively on US foreign policy and South Asian affairs. He tweets @tweetingacho (twitter.com/tweetingacho)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.