Waiting for Leadership
19/08/09 a 8:47am por Maribel Hastings
Tomorrow, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano will host a meeting with representatives of organizations and other parties interested in immigration reform at the White House.
As you may recall, last week President Obama declared, while in Mexico, that comprehensive immigration reform will not happen this year, something that he had promised during the 2008 presidential campaign. Now he says that towards the end of the year, there is likely to be a proposal, or a draft bill, that will be introduced and debated by Congress at the beginning of 2010.
As you may also recall, Napolitano has been designated by Obama as his point person at the White House, with Congress and parties interested in generating dialogue that will produce a draft bill.
But advocacy organizations are becoming increasingly uncomfortable due to the fact that Napolitano has focused her efforts in applying and expanding controversial programs -- 287(g) among them -- that allow local police officers to act like federal immigration agents. The perception (and proof) exists that Napolitano’s scales are tipped towards enforcing the laws, leaving the reforming of those very same laws and creating a path to citizenship that would contribute to more effective application of those laws, on the sideline.
It’s also disconcerting that Napolitano and the Obama administration are continuing down the path of previous administrations: lots of immigration enforcement and promises of legalizing the undocumented that don’t become reality.
This is of note because, as governor of Arizona, Napolitano took up every opportunity to talk about the urgency of reforming our immigration system so that laws could be enforced in an effective way. It is of no use if we continue to have millions of undocumented immigrants among us, she once said, as sort of “silent amnesty.” She said that physical walls don’t work because there will always be a way to get over or around them.
It is clear that when she was chosen to lead the massive agency that also houses Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), her tone changed.
Now she barely mentions the issue of comprehensive immigration reform that she is supposed to promote, like during the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in June, when she dedicated the bulk of her speech to addressing the need to be prepared to deal with natural or manmade disasters (what!?!?!). I hope it’s not a sign of things to come.
Or last week, during a border conference where she stated “And so as we enforce the laws that we have, we have been asked to look at reforming the laws that exist. That, of course, will be the responsibility of the Congress, and we will look forward to working with the Congress on that... We are not going to sit by at the Department of Homeland Security and wait for change in the laws. We’re going to enforce the laws that are, but we can reform what we're doing as we wait for reform in the law, and that is exactly what is going on.”
It is true that Congress has the final say on what bills it approves or rejects. But there is also something called “leadership,” and she is expected to demonstrate hers while looking for consensus with regards to immigration reform. Leadership that Obama, who is ultimately her boss, must also demonstrate, as well as a Democrat-led Congress that controls the legislative agenda.
Advocacy organizations are looking for leadership on Thursday.
The immigrant community is also looking for it, as are close to the 7 in 10 Latino voters that supported Obama in November. Their patience has been nothing short of miraculous with both parties [that have controlled both the White House and Congress during the last decade], especially the Democrats who promise to look out for their interests. But patience is turning into frustration as everyone is getting tired of listening to the same song from different orchestras.
Maribel Hastings is a Senior Advisor at America’s Voice