Earl Ofari Hutchinson
First, Attorney General Jeff Sessions did the predictable on the family separation crisis. He blamed former President Obama. In fact, he blamed him twice. He slammed him for his supposed wishy-washy enforcement of immigration laws that allegedly sent a signal that the U.S. has the welcome mat out for anyone who can get across the border. Then he turned around and slammed him for being so tough on enforcement that families were detained, prosecuted and in the process, separated. Trump wasted no time doing one better. He lambasted Obama for the immigration and family separation debacle and took a big shot at the Democrats for allegedly torpedoing a GOP immigration bill that supposedly would solve the problem. A huge part of the bill entails squandering billions of dollars on his pet obsession, namely a border wall.
Trump and Session’s finger-point at Obama for the immigration, and more specifically the family separation, mess is nothing new. The Obama blame game actually started as far back as the 2008 presidential election when GOP Presidential candidate John McCain claimed that Obama helped squash an immigration reform bill in the Senate in June 2007. McCain, as Trump and Sessions, got it partly right, but only partly, and for naked, raw and brutal political self-serving political reasons. In 2007, Obama voted for five amendments that were dubbed “poison pill” amendments. The Amendments lowered the visa quota for guest workers, put a severe time limit on the temporary guest worker program, and the temporary worker visa programs, revised the system for evaluating immigrant citizenship claims, and changed the time limit on the renewal of visas for some immigrants. Then Senator Hillary Clinton and many other leading Democrats also backed the compromise amendments. But none of them were elected president. Obama was. And every time an immigration crisis has come up over the past decade Obama has had to take the heat.
The family separation crisis is no different. It’s true Obama did talk and act tough at times on border enforcement. This included a near record number of deportations, and prosecutions of mothers and fathers with children for illegal border crossing. But he acted because it was the law, Congress and much of the public demanded a tougher policy, and to tackle the surge of tens of thousands from gang, drug and poverty ravaged Central American countries.
Obama, though, never endorsed or enforced any policy that mandated children be separated from their parents in detention centers during legal proceedings. Obama also pushed hard for and implemented the DACA program that allowed children of undocumented immigrants brought into the country illegally to avoid deportation. The GOP congressional leaders screamed long and loud that it was an invitation to more immigration lawbreaking. Trump took the cue and rescinded Obama’s order implementing the program. Obama yelled foul and said that killing DACA was “cruel” and would make a bad problem on immigration even worse. Trump and the GOP’s spin as always is that detention, prosecution, deportations, and family separations will continue to muddy the immigration issue until he gets his border wall. The only departure from that in the GOP’s immigration reform bills, there are two, in the House is a provision to keep families together during legal proceedings; some concession.
The only reason the GOP is going even that far is because of public outrage over the scenes of crying small children behind wire in holding centers while their parents are awaiting prosecution. This public outrage set off loud warning bells about the crucial mid-term elections in November. The rumblings that the GOP could lose the House in the voter backlash over the family separation crisis is the driving force for the party to appear to be doing something about the problem. When the Democrats jumped all over the issue and the problem, the warning bells sounded even louder among GOP leaders. So loud, that even Trump has tipped away from his unbending hard-line stance and hinted that he’d back the alleged House reform bill.
This is where Obama came in. He’s still toxic to most Republicans. And even as public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans are incensed about separating children from their parents, the overwhelming majority of Republicans are still just as unyielding on immigration. They still want a crack-down on illegals and a wall. So, the blame game against Obama fits neatly into the Trump’s political gamesmanship. If Obama and the Democrats created the immigration debacle then anything the GOP does on the issue that seems to correct the separation problem while not backing away from tough border enforcement is a plus for the party by appeasing both the public and the GOP’s conservative base.
This was the immigration template that McCain as far back as the 2008 presidential election crafted to hammer Obama. Trump just dusted it off again to blame Obama for the problem.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming Why Black Lives Do Matter (Middle Passage Press). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.