PBS’s FRONTLINE recently aired a powerful report on the Obama Administration’s “get tough” immigration policy. It’s both alarming and heart-breaking, and I’d encourage you to watch. At the very least, take seven minutes to watch this clip, which tells the story of Roxana Garcia, who was deported to Mexico and torn from her five American-born children, after being stopped by police for failing to signal before changing lanes. (Their story begins at minute 3:00 of the clip.)
The FRONTLINE piece becomes even more upsetting beyond this clip, as it describes disturbing conditions at some of the government’s detention centers, where immigrants are held in purgatory, without access to legal counsel and vulnerable to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Is it possible that the Willacy Detention Center profiled by FRONTLINE — run by a privately-held, for-profit prison management firm with the Orwellian name Management & Training Corporation — does not reflect the typical case? Sure. But it’s hard to believe that officials could not foresee the inevitability of abuse in this situation.
If we are being charitable, we can conclude that the White House believes that, if it amps up enforcement, the GOP will come to the table to enact sweeping legal reforms. (If we are not being charitable — how many times can we be charitable here? — we can conclude that the White House sees draconian enforcement as “good politics.”) We’ve heard this story before. This is just another version of what has happened to the Obama Administration over and over again: assume that the GOP is interested in good faith compromise, concede their demands up-front, and then be crushed by a political bulldozer. As the President says of Republican immigration demands, “All the stuff they’ve asked for, we’ve done.” But this time, we’re not dealing with debt ceilings or tax policy. We’re dealing with human beings.
Today’s GOP isn’t interested in the damage to families, communities, or the U.S. economy being wrought by its anti-immigrant paranoia. It is interested in catering to its most extreme wing. As such, it’s no longer shocking to me that, when Newt Gingrich (hardly a moderate) proposed that some undocumented immigrants with families and long-standing ties to the U.S. not be deported, his fellow debaters pounced. From Michelle Bachmann to Mitt Romney, one Republican hopeful after another declared Gingrich a proponent of “amnesty.” (Never missing an opportunity to have it both ways, Romney later tried to evade follow-up questions to his own position on Fox News.)
It’ll be interesting to see how prominently immigration politics figure in the Republican nomination race. Historically, jingoism has risen during times of economic hardship, even as the actual number of new undocumented immigrants has simultaneously dropped. But, right now, it’s hard for me not to simply turn away in disgust at the willingness of those in power to dehumanize other people. I’d like to see Mitt Romney (or even Barack Obama) refer to Roxana Garcia as “an illegal” in the presence of her five children.