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Obama’s Major Miscalculation

For pro-immigration reform advocates and undocumented workers, the results of the Senate race were viewed through the lens of immigration reform. Democrats were at odds over immigration reform this campaign season, as President Barack Obama – cowing to Republicans’ extreme politicization of the issue – decided to delay immigration reform until after the elections. Some candidates lobbied against action in hopes it would help save the Senate, while others saw his decision as jeopardizing their support of Latino voters. Immigration reform advocate Luis Gutiérrez told the Guardian that the postponement was based upon a mistaken focus on the potential impact on “conservative voters and conservative states”.

Now that the elections have come and gone, both sides of the political spectrum are putting pressure on Obama. Advocates, betrayed by his tragic miscalculation during the campaign, are holding him to his renewed promise to take unilateral action - with people speculating that this promise will come as early as this week. Meanwhile, conservative media are taking advantage of the upcoming Republican Senate majority to push back.

While immigration reform in the media is currently taking an over-politicized tone in this post-election/pre executive action period, we can’t lose sight of how vehemently xenophobic the conservative media has been in the past. Perhaps the campaign opposing Oregon’s measure 88, a measure if passed would have enabled undocumented workers to obtain driver cards, better captures the hateful tropes that have long been used to manipulate voters.

Opponents of the measure prided themselves on running a “grassroots” campaign, up against “Entitled ethnic lobbyists”, “American-worker-betraying labor unions such as… the ACLU”, and the “militant” Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan.

The two PACs leading the campaign against measure 88 – Oregonians for Immigration Reform and the Protect Oregon Driver Licenses Committee  – already had the momentum of a toxic anti-immigration rhetoric behind it, a crazy world where using “ethnic” as a pejorative makes total sense. Because as the narrative goes: Immigrants Will Destroy Your Way of Life. Opponents to the failed measure carried signs during campaign rallies that read, “DIVERSITY’ IS A CODE FOR WHITE GENOCIDE”. Really? Are you sure?  In the Brave New Films short “Top 5 ways anti-immigrant hate makes its way into media and policy”, “Ask A Mexican” columnist Gustavo Arellano points out “this country has shown us so many times that these immigrants become Americans within one generation – why are you freaking out?”

Republicans are terrified of the racist stereotypes they created themselves. Remember: Immigrants = Invaders, stupid! So even if Bill O’Reilly now claims he supports humane treatment of undocumented workers already living in the US, he remains adamant about strengthening border militarization. How is “traditional white America” (whatever the hell that is) and the “white establishment” (that sounds like a phrase you’d want to avoid using about yourself) under threat? Because terrorists. Because hungry people?

The point is guys, Immigrants = criminals. The Protect Oregon Drivers License Committee warned that granting the drivers cards to undocumented residents would create a “dangerous situation from the standpoint of national security and public health” and actually cites the fact that many of those involved in 9/11 held identification cards and aliases, as proof that measure 88 enables terrorism.

The landing page for Oregonians For Immigration Reform looks more like a site for an environmental organization – it’s awash with forest green, the iconic Oregon Douglas Fir incorporated into their logo, and the acronym itself is OFIR. How nice. It’s a uniquely Oregonian approach to anti-immigration policy, seemingly aimed at coaxing Portland and Eugene’s liberal base “to stop illegal immigration as well as reduce legal immigration to amore environmentally, economically and socially sustainable level here in Oregon and across the United States.” Evoking environmentalism and sustainability is at best a thinly veiled attempt at dismissing immigrants as exploitative leeches. Oh yeah, because Immigrants = Leeches too.

That Hispanics and Latin Americans represent the largest minority in Oregon – with an estimated 160,000 undocumented workers, and a white majority well over the national average – makes immigration an especially contentious issue. Especially considering Oregon has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, the racist and misguided inclination to blame immigrants for stealing jobs and exploiting social services is regrettably common. Instead of recognizing the fact that undocumented workers have to drive anyway, actually pay tens of millions of dollars in taxes annually, contribute to social security, and are vital members of communities of faith and creative industries, the media would rather warn you that drivers cards will “help [them] open bank accounts, enter secure facilities, and, yes, board planes” – a not-so subtle and absurdly paranoid insinuation.

The key to all of this, and the grievous outcome to this year’s midterm elections, is Turning Hate Into Policy. The aftermath of hateful media and campaign tactics is palpable. “Exit polling suggested that immigration played only a small role in most voters’ minds, but was a motivating factor for Republicans more than Democrats and those GOP voters tended to be opposed to legalization,” said the Washington Times.

Republicans are touting the failure of measure 88 and losses by pro-immigration reform Senate candidates as proof that voters are “fed up with illegal immigration”, warning Obama not take unilateral executive action. 

Will D.C. listen?” the National Review asks in self-righteous desperation. Let’s hope it does, but not to the unfounded “bifurcated” mentality that labels immigrants as either “incredibly lazy, or stealing everything we have and trying to leech off of us,” that Arellano explains. As Pilar Marrero put it to Brave New Films, “What we have had in the last 20 years – this enforcement only strategy – it’s not the path to continue to follow into the future. It’s hurting immigrants and it’s hurting the United States economic future.”