September 1, 2013

Barney Frank: On immigration, Obama should take a lesson from Clinton

I realize this is not President Obama's style, but he is entitled to a "Sister Souljah" moment in his current fight for major immigration reform.

click image to enlarge

Rap artist Sister Souljah, seen at a 1992 news conference, made claims that then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton wasn’t in touch with the problems of black America.

The Associated Press

Sister Souljah is an African-American singer who sang about the desirability of anti-white violence.

Speaking at an event in 1992, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton expressed his sharp disagreement with that view. Jesse Jackson angrily rebuked Clinton, accusing him of seeking a way to appeal to the right at the expense of his allies. I often agree with Jackson, but on this point Clinton was absolutely right -- morally, intellectually and politically.

Picking unnecessary fights with your friends is a bad idea. Refusing to dissociate yourself from them when they say or do inaccurate and irresponsible things can be worse. For Clinton to have remained silent in that situation would have given ammunition to those who sought to discredit his efforts to further racial fairness. He was under no obligation to lose political support, not just for himself, but for progressive issues generally, because of Souljah's racist diatribes.

The ongoing, deliberate repeated violations of existing immigration law by young people on the U.S.-Mexican border presents an even greater threat to Obama's agenda than rhetoric about killing white people did to Clinton's efforts. Ironically -- even infuriatingly -- the agenda item these emotionally self-indulgent people is endangering is the excellent work the president is doing to make most of the immigration law changes they support.

Obama is waging a two-pronged fight for a significant shift of immigration policies in the direction of great accommodation of people who've come to the U.S. without legal authorization but have otherwise been law-abiding residents.

First, he has ordered the immigration authorities to focus deportation activity on those who have committed other crimes, providing de facto protection to the vast majority of those who remain vulnerable to expulsion. Second, he has been an indispensable part of the legislative push to end that vulnerability by granting them the immediate right to stay, followed by a process that leads to citizenship.

These pro-immigration efforts -- which are very much in our national interest -- are strongly opposed by most conservative Republicans, and regrettably, by the union of Immigration Enforcement Agents, angry at being ordered to follow policies that combine compassion with good economic sense. The bill that has passed the Senate calls for increased enforcement of the law once it is changed to alleviate the fear that granting legal status to immigrants who are now here without it will encourage millions more to come.

Winning passage of the bill in the Republican-controlled House, with the strong influence of the tea party, will be tough. If the idea that the president will enforce the new safeguards loses credibility, it becomes much tougher. Many Republicans hate the bill because they fear -- with good reason -- that it will bring millions of additional Democratic voters to the polls when the citizenship rules kick in. But some are seriously concerned about future enforcement. In the Senate, enough Republicans -- and some Democrats -- were persuaded on this point to give the bill a filibuster-proof majority. The question is whether this can be duplicated in the House.

This is why the flouting of existing law is so damaging. What the people participating in these demonstrations are doing is pressing the president to take exactly the steps that would increase opposition in the House to a bill which, to repeat the central point, would be very much in the interest of those doing the protesting.

One of their tactics is to have people apply for asylum in large numbers to get the right to stay in the country indefinitely without legal status. Nothing could do more to drive away the votes that are needed to pass this bill. Some Republican members will themselves be convinced by this that enforcement will be rendered impossible by these pressures. Others, who would like to vote yes, especially because it is strongly backed by most elements of the business community, face difficulty in doing so because of their conservative constituents. The law-breakers make the job of persuading those voters that this is a good idea even harder.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)