Sometimes it’s about keeping it real. As President Obama welcomed the Mexican President Felipe Calderón to the White House for the first series of official talks between the two countries, Michelle Obama and Mexico’s first lady Margarita Zavala met a little girl who put a human face to the diplomatic talks about immigration that were taking place in the White House.While the two Presidents were to discuss a number of issues including the economy, climate change and drug wars, given President Calderón’s vehement condemnation of Arizona’s new law, immigration was likely to take center stage. Meanwhile, the first ladies stopped off at a elementary school in Silver Spring which is two-thirds Hispanic students and has a large proportion of students below the poverty line to promote Michelle Obama’s campaign for healthy eating. But a little girl changed all that with a powerful question.
Student: “My mom … she says that Barack Obama is taking everybody away that doesn’t have papers.”
Mrs. Obama: “Yeah, well that’s something that we have to work on, right? To make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers, right? That’s exactly right.”
Student: “But my mom doesn’t have any …”
Mrs. Obama: “Well, we have to work on that. We have to fix that, and everybody’s got to work together in Congress to make sure that happens.”
The abstract issue of immigration was brought into human focus by the little girl’s question, prompted by the fear that her mother would be taken away from her. In the midst of the pomp of diplomatic state visits and lawmaker’s efforts to appease their electorates, a little girl’s honest fears about her family summed up the massive problem that the country currently faces.
Addressing this volatile issue, President Obama concurred with President Calderón on the pressing need for immigration reform and joined him in denouncing Arizona’s harsh new immigration enforcement measure, SB1070. President Obama said-
We also discussed the new law in Arizona, which is a misdirected effort – a misdirected expression of frustration over our broken immigration system, and which has raised concerns in both our countries.. Because in the United States of America, no law-abiding person – be they an American citizen, a legal immigrant, or a visitor or tourist from Mexico – should ever be subject to suspicion simply because of what they look like.
While the President reaffirmed his commitment to work with Congress to pass bipartisan, comprehensive reform, the truth is that the Obama administration has already surpassed the Bush administration’s deportation levels. And enforcement continues to be a problem. Former New York City District Attorney Robert Morgenthau lashed out against programs that promote collaboration between federal officials and local law enforcement on immigration, including Arizona’s new law.
Morgenthau drew on his personal experience as district attorney in Manhattan to criticize the Criminal Alien program which enables federal immigration officials to be stationed in local jails and issue “detainers” to foreign born inmates, many of whom are unaware of what is happening to them. In addition to increasing the burden of cost on New York, programs such as these mostly trap people who have committed minor crimes (or sometimes none at all). But for the former D.A., the most dangerous consequence of such programs is that by blurring the distinction between federal officials and local law enforcement, they severely impair the relationship that local police have with the public. Speaking of New York he explains-
When immigrants perceive the local police force as merely an arm of the federal immigration authority, they become reluctant to report criminal activity for fear of being turned over to federal officials. Given that immigrants (legal and illegal) currently comprise 36% of the city’s population, this unwillingness to cooperate with local law enforcement presents an obstacle to stemming crime in the city as a whole. That’s why during the 35 years I was district attorney in Manhattan, I made it a policy never to turn over names of individuals involved with the criminal justice system to immigration authorities until after they were convicted of a serious crime.
It is not surprising then that police chiefs across Arizona have spoken out in opposition to Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. Following this, police chiefs from Nevada, California and Maryland have also opposed Arizona’s law on the grounds that it would lead to racial profiling and breed fear of the police within Hispanic communities. Maryland Police Chief Thomas Manger said that taking on federal enforcement responsibilities would result in local police losing much more than they would gain and would prevent them from doing their jobs. But lawmakers seem oblivious to this advice. Similar bills are in the works in 10 states including Nebraska and Rhode Island.