Obama and McCain on Immigration: Life vs. Death

June 13, 2008


Obama and McCain on Immigration: Life vs. Death

New America Media, News analysis, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Jun 13, 2008 Share/Save/Bookmark

Editor’s Note: When it comes to immigration reform, what’s the real difference between Barack Obama and John McCain? Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión provides the most comprehensive analysis, writes NAM contributor Roberto Lovato.

A recent story by Maribel Hastings of La Opinión newspaper provides the most comprehensive analysis yet of the similarities and differences between John McCain and Barack Obama around immigration policy. According to Hastings, “Both candidates support construction of a wall at the southern U.S. border. But the most important differences are less obvious and have more to do with what kind of reform the candidates advocate for and try to get approved, according to Cecilia Muñoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).”

Among those revealing details, says Hastings, are small but important differences that may make a major difference in what will surely be an intense fight for the Latino vote. Hastings continues, “McCain, for example, is opposed to the DREAM Act, which would benefit undocumented students and Obama supports it;” adding that “McCain opposes the idea of giving driver’s licenses to the undocumented, while Obama favors the proposal.”

Reading Hastings’ article, one can’t help but think of how many other opportunities for differentiation the seemingly endless maze of migration law and policy offers the candidates – and the immigrant rights movement – this election year.

If only the political will to bring greater attention to these often life-saving details existed.

The most strategic and important opportunity to turn the page on the immigration debate via the elections does not orbit around the twin axes of legalization and border security favored by the liberal-conservative consensus of some Democrats, some Republicans and their allies. This is the approach of the McCain-Kennedy bill still favored by both candidates.

Much has changed for immigrants since that bill failed in 2006-2007. What is, without a doubt, the most significant change since backers of the various versions of the McCain-Kennedy bill failed to reform immigration policy in 2006-2007 is how rancid and radically bad – detention deaths, thousands of raids, massive deportations, traumatized children, steadily growing streams of hate media and hate crimes, etc. – the anti-immigrant climate has become thanks to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and others. In such a climate, “immigration reform” focusing primarily on legalization and “border security” seems out-of-touch, if not dangerous.

A more strategic, urgent and powerful immigration reform strategy has to center around the colossal tragedy caused by ICE, the colossal tragedy that is ICE. The greatest good Obama, McCain or anyone else can do to aid current and future immigrants is to put radically re-organizing, if not dismantling, ICE at the center of any discussion about “immigration reform” in the United States. Asking McCain and Obama to lead calls for either Congressional investigations or the establishment of a special investigative committee of some sort (as happened with detention facilities in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo) seems like a good place to start. So would calls for the immediate resignation of ICE chief Julie Myers, who has overseen an agency that has sexually abused, physically beaten, drugged, used dogs against and even killed immigrant detainees in a manner not unlike that seen in offshore military detention centers. With increasing frequency since 2006, Hastings and other Spanish language reporters in print and electronic media outlets have filled pages and airwaves with tear-inspiring, almost daily reports of numerous forms of abuse, death and fear experienced by immigrants at the hands of ICE.

In their efforts to differentiate themselves among voters, especially Latino voters, Senators McCain and Obama might also want these voters to see and hear them lead the fight to pass the Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act (SSDS), which was reintroduced last Wednesday by Senators Lieberman, Brownback, Kennedy, and Hagel. The SSDS addresses some of the more serious problems faced by immigrants in detention, problems recently brought to light by major news reports. The detention-focused legislation includes provisions for improved conditions and medical care, reporting of deaths, judicial review of detention for asylum seekers and other detainees, expansion of alternatives to detention and, most importantly, more oversight.

So, in the netherworld of the immigrant gulag growing on our shores, the small differences around the minutiae of immigration law can mean the difference between life and death, a difference that can win the hearts and minds of many voters this year.

(Note: What follows is the La Opinion piece translated into English thanks to Matt Ortega)

Immigration Reform Defines Positions

Obama and McCain plans overlap somewhat, but have significant differences

By Maribel Hastings
La Opinion Correspondent

At first glance there doesn’t seem to be significant differences between Senator Obama and Senator McCain’s stance on immigration. It’s because Obama supports reform previously supported by John McCain until the political climate led him to take a “security-first” approach.

If anything is similar between McCain and Obama and their respective political parties, Republican and Democrat, it’s to avoid the issue all together when possible. Especially since it’s not on the top of the issues of most concern to voters, and a volatile topic.

What’s odd is that it’s an issue that, according to some, would benefit McCain in the fight for latino votes as the Senator from Arizona co-authored the Immigration Reform Bill with Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA).

Although McCain presently emphasizes a “security-first” approach, the McCain/Kennedy bill still resounds among many hispanics.

But everything is relative. Yesterday a NBC/WSJ poll concluded that 62% of hispanic voters prefer Obama versus 28% for McCain.

Upon closer scrutiny of both candidate positions, there are differences. For example, McCain opposes the Dream Act that benefits undocumented students and Obama supports it; McCain opposes giving driving licenses to illegal immigrants; Obama supports it.

Nevertheless, both would vote in favor of building a wall on the southern border.

“But the most important differences are less obvious and have to do with what type of reform they’ll propose and try to pass,” said Cecilia Munoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

According to Munoz, McCain’s talk on immigration changes “depending on his audience.”

“We had George Bush’s heart behind immigration reform and that wasn’t enough. I think John McCain’s heart is behind the legislation but we don’t know if he wants or would be able to really push through the type of reform he wants,” she added.

“Not only is he trying to placate latino voters, but the anti-immigrant side of his party as well, and this will constrain him in an important way” said Munoz.

McCain spokesman Jeff Sadosky told La Opinion that McCain thinks its very important to express his positions with “clear and compassionate” language.

“John McCain thinks that we need to secure the border first, but at the same time he understands that we need to handle the immigration debate humanely while understanding that everybody needs to be treated with respect,” declared Sadosky.

For McCain it’s to attract hispanics without alienating the conservative Republican base.

But Obama also faces obstacles.

Certainly, the Senator’s positions are also more progressive than the official position of the democrats that control congress, like the Senator’s support for giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants.

But not even the democrats that control both Houses of Congress have been able to advance comprehensive reform.

The Senator tried, but the House of Representatives seems more interested in holding hearings than producing concrete results.

There’s a division between conservative democrats in the House that favor measures focused on security like Rep. Health Shuler’s (R-NC) plan and those that support comprehensive reform like the Hispanic Caucus.

Furthermore, it’s not only the white working class that’s hostile to comprehensive reform. There’s also a perception that there are sectors within the Afro-American community that are hostile to such reform as well.

Munoz pointed to surveys that prove otherwise and that national Afro-American organizations, like the NAACP, actively support comprehensive reform.

But, according to Munoz, the fact that Obama promises to advance immigration reform in the beginning of his possible administration not only is a message to the immigrant community but also to Congress.

“It’s the type of difference with [John McCain] that is less obvious but equally important: the quality of the compromise,” she concluded.

8 Responses to “Obama and McCain on Immigration: Life vs. Death”

  1. kyledeb Says:

    Good piece, Roberto. I like the way you continue to make the connection between migrant detention and Guantanamo. Let’s hope the higher ups get the message.

  2. aj Says:

    If ICE were dismantled, what, if anything, would you want to replace it? What would be its mission, tactics, etc.?

  3. robvato Says:

    The history of immigration enforcement has no single logical thread running thru its placement in some branch of government. The early immigration agencies were located under the purview of the Labor and Commerce Departments, reflecting the economic priority migration had and continues to have for the state. It was then placed under the Justice Dept. before its current placement under the gargantuan anti-terrorist bureaucracy of the disastrous Dept. of Homeland Security.

    In sum, we need to separate the immigration bureaucracy from the anti-terrorist bureaucracy that’s killing so many with its mismanagement and overzealousness. ICE has been and continues to be a tragic and absolute failure. So, let’s move it and move it now.

  4. […] Obama and McCain on Immigration: Life vs. Death at Of América. […]

  5. ae Says:

    thanks for this most important piece to help raise awareness about the horrific human rights abuses being funded by the US government and our tax dollars.

    however, we must dig deeper and look into the ever-growing dangers embedded in the Federal D.R.E.A.M Act bill – a proposal which dangles the carrot of “path to citizenship” if and when youth return home from the war abroad (after they have survived or escaped the war at home).

    given the increasing disparities in graduation rates by race (in my state, only about 50% of latinos graduate high school and only 3% of those go on to college), the elitist admissions policies and sky-rocketing tuition rates, more and more youth who have been racially profiled and tracked out of high school will seek the military “option.” for those of us who are working class and with the millions of dollars worth of media budget the pentagon gets (ever wonder what videogames your kids play?), we are looking at a huge number of undocumented bodies being lined up by this bill to feed the empirialistic machinery that is the US military. this bill did not always have this military clause, before the military saw that no one would join willingly, the bill changed from “volunteer community service” to signing up with the military for 2 years (note: there is no 2 year contract with the military, once you sign, your life is out of your hands)

    why would we ever want to send brown people from the US to oppress other brown people abroad?

    this proposal must be changed, it must not kow-tow to the corporate military beasts, our lives are not worth the price of “citizenship” nor the violence we will have to do with our hands so the corporate suits can keep theirs clean.

  6. robvato Says:

    De acuerdo, Alondra. The DREAM Act contains the nightmare of military service in between the lines. Again, we see the politics of the “tradeoff” between legalization and some nefarious thing the state wants, in this case more bodies for the war machine. Also provides a clear example of why the powers that be need decrepit schools and a compromised media system; the better to push bad legislation and keep the empire’s motor purring. Gracias,


  7. David Rebstock Says:

    You say McCain is compassionate. I watched in Tucson, AZ Federal Court as 60 men in women were convicted of illegal entry. They were among 100s that are caught every day and sent back. Some are sentenced to time served. Others to 30, 60, 90, 180 days depending on how many times they have been caught. Those sentenced to time served are put on a bus many without their backpacks, no Identification. no food and no medical treatment for their blistered feet. I have pictures of them being left off not at the regular entry point but at the truck entry point in the desert where there is no food, medical care. So they try again. Where is the compassion in his own state? Go to Tucson and see for yourself.

  8. Courtney Alejandro Says:

    I am a wife of a illegal hispanic. We have tried for a few years now to “fix” my husbands status here, and he has been denied many times over; though we have been married for a few years now and have a child together, whom is a US citizen. I am going to vote this year, but everywhere I turn I get mixed messages about who wants to get what done! It is all very confusing, because I just want to know, without bias, who is wanting to pass what! I don’t want my husband to have to serve in Iraq in order to not have to look over his shoulder everywhere he goes! I didn’t marry a soldier, so I don’t think it is fair to have to make that choice! If anyone would get back to me with an UNBIAS idea about what is what and who is truely out to seriously reform immigration!

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