The flood of underage — and non-underage — illegal immigrants from Central America coming across the border in Texas is, to paraphrase a former Obama administration official, a “man-caused disaster.” The man who caused it, more than anyone else, is President Barack Obama.
Speaking at political fundraisers in Dallas and Austin last week — he refused to do a “photo op” on the border; first things first — Obama placed the blame on House Republicans for not having passed a comprehensive immigration bill as the Democratic-majority Senate did in June 2013.
But it wasn’t only Republicans who failed to pass such a bill. House Democrats didn’t pass one either in 2009 or 2010, when they had a bigger majority than Republicans have had in 80 years.
House Democrats’ priorities were the stimulus package, Obamacare and cap-and-trade legislation to address supposed global warming. They passed all three despite negative polling — and even though cap-and-trade had no chance in the Senate.
In the short run, Obama paid no political price for the Democrats’ decision to sidestep immigration. The only time he got pressed on the issue was a grilling by Univision’s Jorge Ramos in September 2012. Obama carried 71 percent of Hispanic votes in November.
But he missed the chance to pass comprehensive immigration reform — on which, unlike the stimulus, Obamacare and cap-and-trade, he might have had significant Republican support — by his own choice.
The second thing that led to the flood of underage illegals was Obama’s declaration in June 2012, five months before the election, that he would not enforce immigration laws against so-called “dreamers,” young adults brought over the border illegally as children who also met certain conditions.
This was a popular move not only among Hispanics but among voters generally. The idea of deporting people who have graduated from high school, are going to college or working or serving in the military is unappealing to almost everyone.
Obama complained then that the Republican House failed to pass a dream act. But his announcement that he would not faithfully execute the law, in a systematic way involving thousands of people, has had reverberations leading to the current crisis.
One is that House Republicans are unwilling to pass any immigration legislation that gives him discretion on how to enforce the law. They seem to be bridling at passing the $3.7 billion package he’s seeking to address the problem for which he’s largely responsible — the underage illegal flood.
They want a provision adding Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as countries to which underage illegals can promptly be deported. Currently, the William Wilberforce Anti-Trafficking Act of 2008 provides exceptions only for Canada and Mexico.
That made sense in legislation designed to protect relatively small numbers of minors brought into the country by sex traffickers. It doesn’t make sense when very large numbers of underage migrants come in with the apparent intention of remaining here permanently.
Liberals want to treat the underage illegals as something like political refugees, fleeing from countries with horrifying high crime rates. That means letting them stay here indefinitely.
That seems to be what is happening. The young people are being shipped to relatives and friends and told to come to immigration hearings when they can be held. Few probably ever will.
There seems little doubt that this is understood in Central America. There wouldn’t be such a large surge of people crossing the border illegally if people had not gotten they idea that they had permisos to do so.
The flood at the border has seriously undermined the argument that legalization will not trigger another rush of illegal immigration, as the 1986 legislation did. And it has undermined as well those in both parties who argue that this administration can be trusted to secure the border.
So the debate about immigration inevitably moves away from legalization and toward deportation and enforcement.
All this moves the focus even further away from the immigration reform that the country really needs and that the 2013 Senate bill does only a little to address: the need for more high-skill immigrants.
Canada and Australia have immigration laws that reserve most places for those with high skills. We have been reserving more places for reunification of extended families.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry warned Obama two years ago that the current flood would occur. Obama paid no heed.
As an old saying of mine goes, nothing is free in politics, but there is some question when you pay the price. Obama is paying now.
— Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @MichaelBarone, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.