Obama on Immigration: Faking Right?

President Obama, who played on a high school team that claimed a state championship, knows basketball. He famously sank a three-pointer during a 2008 campaign visit to U.S. troops in Kuwait. He continues to play at the White House, where he has installed a basketball court on the South Lawn. And he has imported some of his basketball moves into the policy world. With his stimulus package and health care reform, the president faked right and feinted left before driving down the center of the court for a lay-up. He scored his points, but his critics called foul.

Now, on immigration reform, the president is again faking right. To determine his ultimate destination, don't be fooled by what the president does with his mouth. Pay close attention to his hands to figure out which way he'll move.

In its head fake to the right on immigration, the Obama administration expects to deport 400,000 undocumented people this year, 10 percent more than the 2008 total of the Bush administration. More critically, the government has quadrupled the number of audits conducted on firms to make sure that they're not hiring undocumented workers.

The administration has tried to spin these efforts to sound more appealing. The government argues that it's targeting people who commit crimes and will try not to separate families. But immigration advocates contend that the reality is very different, as zealous local officials and police apply a full-court press. These advocates recently brought their message to the White House, where they say that the president "was surprised by evidence that thousands of ordinary illegal immigrants continue to be targeted and deported, often for minor violations, despite the official focus on criminals."

The right wing is certainly making enough noise to force the president to fake right. Illegal immigrants are pouring into the country, the Big Wall supporters claim. The border areas have turned into war zones, and the English-only movement worries that a future president will deliver a State of the Union speech in Spanish. But it's not just Latinos that kindle the racism of the uber-patriots. The organization Americans for Immigration Control goes out of its way to praise the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882: "Today, the violent criminal activities of the Chinese Tong gangs, the widespread criminal activities of Chinese alien and drug smugglers, and the espionage at the Los Alamos Research Labs proves the wisdom of our ancestors." Say what?

Wenho Lee, the Los Alamos physicist accused (and ultimately acquitted) of selling top secrets to a foreign country, received over a million bucks in compensation plus a judicial apology for government misconduct in its legal suit. And it's not the FBI that's worried about the wave of Chinese immigrants, but America's top universities that are overwhelmed by applications from those overachieving Tong members and drug smugglers.

The arguments made against Latino immigrants are just as absurd. In fact, illegal immigration numbers are down, largely as a result of economic crisis and fewer jobs available in el Norte. As for the wave of violence sweeping through the Southwest, it's just not happening. "Violent crime, though rising in Mexico, has fallen on this side of the border: in Southwestern border counties it has dropped more than 30 percent in the past two decades," writes William Finnegan in The New Yorker. "According to FBI statistics, the four safest big cities in the United States -- San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso, and Austin -- are all in border states."

The right wing is by no means unified on this issue. Indeed, several conservative evangelical leaders have supported the need for immigration reform. They base this support in scripture -- love thy neighbor, etc. -- but demography is really the driving factor. By opposing immigration, the church would be cutting off its nose to spite its base. "My message to Republican leaders," Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the evangelical National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, told The New York Times, "is if you're anti-immigration reform, you're anti-Latino, and if you're anti-Latino, you are anti-Christian church in America, and you are anti-evangelical."

You don't have to be an evangelical Christian to realize that immigration reform is in the U.S.'s self-interest. According to a report earlier this year from the Campaign for American Progress and the American Immigration Council, an amnesty program affecting the more than 11 million undocumented people in the United States would add $1.5 trillion to the GDP over a decade. That's a lot more folks generating government revenue and keeping U.S. businesses afloat.

With a bumper sticker like "It's good for God and country!" immigration should be an easy win for the administration. If only politics were so sensible.

Obama has pledged to remake the U.S. relationship with the global community. Such global engagement begins at home since we are, increasingly, the world. I'm not happy with the president's feints to the right in an attempt to please the anti-immigrant lobby: the law-and-order rhetoric, the support of free-trade agreements that ultimately push people into leaving their countries. But if Obama manages to drive to the basket -- and win amnesty for millions of hard-working de facto Americans -- I'll cheer the victory. We just have to make sure that the president doesn't fool us all by faking right and dribbling right. It's our responsibility to close down that lane and make sure he drives to the left.

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