US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Obama administration timid, as it gears up for immigration reform

By Father Tom Joyce, CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The State of Arizona, losing patience with the federal government to enact tough immigration restrictions, had voted for its own employer sanction bill. Any business that hired an undocumented worker was subject to a stiff fine for each worker so hired. A second offense placed the employer in jeopardy of losing his or her license to do business in the state. Only Maricopa County (Phoenix) tried to enforce the law – at the insistence of its nativist sheriff and state's attorney. The law is now winding its way to the U.S. Supreme Court for review (see Los Angeles Times).

The irony is that the governor who signed the bill into law was Janet Napolitano, now Secretary for Homeland Security and Obama’s point person on comprehensive immigration reform. She had begun running for governor of Arizona and was elected, with strong support from the Hispanic community. When the fence across the Arizona desert was first proposed, she mocked the effort. Still she signed the employer sanction bill. Recently, while addressing the administration’s position on immigration reform, she renewed the president’s campaign promise to provide a “pathway to citizenship” for the estimated 12 million undocumented. But the tone was “balanced” with a stern warning that enforcement will come first. The fence she previously mocked was now doing its job and will be completed. Those who scoffed at the law and came unwelcome into the country will be pursued and excluded.

The tone of the administration and its congressional support seems to be responding nervously to anti-immigrant fears by emphasizing enforcement. The administration has turned up enforcing sanctions against employers while reducing  factory raids. But deportations are increasing and Homeland Security is heralding a reduction in detentions at the border as a sign of the administration’s stepped-up border control. It has extended the 287 (g) program which seeks the cooperation of local law agencies to enforce immigration laws. It crows about the number of “criminals” ferreted out through the checks of immigration status at local jails – notwithstanding that most cases are for minor offense like DUI (see New York Times editorial ). Even Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who will be most influential in writing the new law, is urging people not to coddle the “law-breaking” immigrant with the term “undocumented”. On health care reform the administration has taken the hard line of not allowing the undocumented to buy health insurance on the exchanges to be created, even if they pay out of their own pocket. The Obama administration needs to show the courage of its conviction on immigration. It now seems intimidated by the nativists.