Gutierrez praises new Obama deportation policy, warns against predators
MARK BROWN email@example.com August 30, 2011 7:00PM
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:30AM
Opponents of illegal immigrants are so busy portraying the Obama administration’s new relaxed deportation policy as a back-door amnesty program that Rep. Luis Gutierrez is worried some people are going to get the wrong idea, namely the immigrants themselves.
In his first Chicago appearance since Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano revealed the agency’s more sensible approach to deportations, Gutierrez used the occasion to stroke Obama and to warn Chicago’s immigrant community not to fall prey to scam artists who might offer to sign them up for legalization — for a fee.
There is no legalization program, despite how the policy change has been portrayed by its opponents, and therefore no reason to be paying for anything, Gutierrez warned.
“There are scoundrels out there. There are people who prey on our immigrant community. This is not amnesty. This is not a program you sign up for. Don’t be fooled,” he said at a press conference at the headquarters of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which had joined him in pressing Obama to back off his administration’s heretofore heavy emphasis on deportations.
By scoundrels, Gutierrez was referring to the predators who have historically played immigrants for suckers whenever a change in federal immigration law created an opportunity, although I’m sure he also feels that way about some of the conservative voices who would want you to think Obama has thrown the borders wide open.
What the Obama administration seems to be doing — and I say seems because everybody is waiting to see how the policy change actually plays out in practice — is to instruct immigration officials to use some discretion in the deportation cases they choose to prosecute.
Immigrants who have been in the country without authorization since childhood but stayed out of criminal trouble would be treated as low priorities for deportation, as would close relatives of U.S. service members and parents or spouses of American citizens.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin has said he believes the policy would protect most of the immigrant students he has been looking to help with his proposed DREAM Act. But there are no blanket protections under the policy, just a promise of a case-by-case determination of whether someone really deserves to be removed from the country.
Homeland Security and the Justice Department are supposed to review the 300,000 cases currently in the deportation pipeline with an eye toward halting the cases that don’t fit the goals of targeting criminals who are a threat to national security, border security or public safety.
The change of direction from the Obama administration doesn’t do anything to solve the underlying problem of a country in bad need of comprehensive immigration reform, but in the meantime, it restores a little bit of common sense to a program that sometimes has targeted immigrants for traffic violations.
At best, it gives temporary breathing room to some — and a reason to hope for a more lasting solution.
It also gives Obama a chance to revive his political prospects in the Latino community, which has been highly disillusioned with his handling of immigration matters up to this point in his presidency.
Gutierrez acknowledged as much, telling his audience it was time to show Obama some love after two years of fighting him.
“This is the Barack Obama we’ve been waiting for,” he said. “Maybe it took him 30 months to show up, but he has shown up. . . . Things are beginning to happen. Is it perfecto? No.”
Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), a former Gutierrez ally, was unimpressed.
“For me, it’s too little, too late,” said Maldonado, who has been particularly outspoken in his criticism of Obama’s emphasis on deportation.
And one immigration lawyer also told me the changes were a “waste of paper” for failing to resolve the underlying issues.
But other immigrant advocates said this is a significant victory for their side, even as they wait to see how the policy is put into effect.
“They’re going to draw distinctions. That’s what we’ve been asking for,” one advocate said.
One of the stranger provisions of the new policy would allow those who receive relief from deportation to apply for a work permit.
This is apparently causing some immigrants not currently facing deportation to consider trying to get themselves deported with the idea of coming out on the other side with legal status.
Don’t do that either, warned Gutierrez.
“Be patient and be careful,” he advised.