We Protested Obama’s Immigration Policies


The right-wing love affair with President Obama never ceases to amaze me.

To be specific, conservatives like to justify their insane and inhuman policies by pointing out that liberals were silent when Obama did the same things.

There are three reasonable responses to this tactic…and it is nothing more than a political tactic.

  1. Obama didn’t do it.
  2. If he did, the left was not silent about it.
  3. Obama doing things that are morally wrong does not automatically validate doing it.

The current case in point is the Trump Administration’s thoroughly disgusting zero-tolerance policy at the border. In case you’ve been living under a rock, or (even worse) get your news from FoxNoise and Sinclaire, the Trump Administration has changed the enforcement policy at the border by prosecuting every individual who crosses the imaginary line without going through the established process. This includes people who wish to claim asylum–which is perfectly legal under U.S. and international law.

Since children cannot be permanently detained with adults according to the Flores Agreement, the result of Trump’s medieval policy is that children are being forcibly removed from their parents and housed in what amount to concentration camps for children. It cannot be overstated enough that this is a direct result of Trump Administration policy.

The outcry among everyone with even a fractional sense of humanity and decency has been palpable. So the Republican Party and the right-wing propaganda machine are doing what they always do when faced with public condemnation of their policies. They lie.

They claim that they are just following the law. Lie.

They claim that Democrats are the reason why children are being separated from their parents. Lie.

I could go on, but the most popular lie is that Obama did the exact same thing when he was in office, and liberals were silent about it.

This is a two-fold lie. Obama did not do the exact same thing–but this requires context. Furthermore, liberals were not silent about the things Obama did.

So what did Obama do? His record on immigration isn’s squeaky clean. There’s plenty to criticise. When then-Senator Obama was running for president, he appealed to the immigrant community, “I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time for a president who won’t walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform just because it becomes politically unpopular…That’s the commitment I am making to you, and I will make it a priority in my first year as president.” It didn’t quite work out that way.

In fact, in his first term, President Obama stepped up deportations and immigration enforcement. This approach earned Obama the title Deporter-in-Chief, a term coined by La Raza President Janet Marguía. To be sure, Obama’s intensive deportation policies did result in separated families as undocumented immigrants were deported despite having to leave their citizen children behind. This was in the face of the so-called “anchor baby” balderdash hyped by the right.

Obama’s immigration policy was not what progressives and immigration advocates expected. Why did he take this relatively hard-line stance? There may have been political contingencies. He may have feared being labeled soft on border security, which would have hampered any effort at immigration reform. By stepping up border security and deportations he may have been using the good ol’ Clinton Triangulation tactic, namely trying to cut off conservative criticism by tacking right. It didn’t work. No matter what Obama did, he was still hammered from the right for having “Open Border” policies. It didn’t matter that this was clearly not true. Conservatives weren’t going to fact check this anyway.

This was, however, deeply troubling to the left. First, Obama’s right-wing policies on immigration were causing immense human suffering. Secondly, that human suffering was never going to culminate in needed reform that would make such a politics of the possible strategy worthwhile in the end. It looked as though Obama was outsmarting himself from the right on immigration. It could even be argued that Obama’s immigration policies set the stage for even more brutality on the part of the Orange Don, as this prescient piece in The Nation suggests.

So the left, in conjunction with immigrant rights groups, organized against Obama. That’s right. Your right-wing friends may not remember this. They certainly aren’t willing to spend fifteen seconds on Google to actually confirm it, but there was significant mobilization from the left against Obama’s immigration policies. Furthermore, these protests and call-ins and letter writing campaigns bore fruit.

After years of failure in immigration policy, and unceasing attacks right-wing media conglomerate regardless of his actual policies, Obama did temper some of his most abusive practices. Albeit, he did wait until the 2014 midterms before taking major action. He focused deportations proceedings on those with known criminal and gang records. He endeavored to keep families together through a family case worker program. He supported and implemented DACA. These were not organic outcomes from Obama’s immigration policy, they were victories by mobilized social movements.

So don’t let the right-wing machine control the narrative on this, and don’t be distracted by some visceral need to defend Obama in the Age of Trump. Obama may not have had the same policies that the current administration has, but he was no saint when it came to immigration. This fact does not, however, validate the gross violation of human rights being perpetrated by the Trump/Sessions Junta.

We also have to remember that what reforms immigrants received under Obama were hard-fought victories for social movements. They were not policies derived from Obama’s sense of decency and obligation. Just as we had to fight Obama for the sake of human progress, we have to fight that much harder against what may very well go down in history as the most brutal presidency since Andrew Jackson.¹

  1. As of this morning, President Trump, with his usual fanfare, signed an executive order ending family separation. His order does not, however, reunite children who have already been separated. Nor does it end the equally offensive “zero-tolerance” policy that is driving his police-state immigration tactics.


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