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In an excellent and thorough article describing the Obama Administration’s actions relating to detention and comprehensive immigration reform, Anil Kalhan sounded the alarm regarding Secretary Napolitano’s recent announcement that the Obama Administration “had deported more individuals than any other administration in U.S. history.” Kalhan posits that the Obama Administration’s reinforcement of the convergence between criminals and immigration in public discourse has made the Administration increasingly vulnerable to attacks from the anti-immigrant right.

It seems that the conflation of criminal behavior and the status of immigrants has become the rule as opposed to the exception in today’s media. Too frequently we hear about “criminal immigrants” or possible “immigrant terrorists” at the border or elsewhere rather than recognizing that a violation in immigration law for what it is: a civil violation. Although the Obama Administration’s justification for its stepped up enforcement policies presumably has been to demonstrate a secure border in order to lay the groundwork for comprehensive immigration reform, there has been no effective movement towards that end aside from a “hail mary”, half-hearted attempt at passage of the Dream Act near the end of the this year’s legislative session.

Of all of the criticisms I would level at the Obama Administration for their handling of immigration policy in the United States, the most troubling to me has been their complicity in allowing the language of the undocumented immigrant to merge with “illegal or criminal” in common parlance. This conflation is unacceptable. The fact that Secretary Napolitano has given the appearance of a Presidential blessing to the merger or these terms is disconcerting.

That said, I remain hopeful that the midterm elections may at least bring new hope for legislative or executive change for lawful and undocumented immigrants. Elections such as the Illinois Senate race will hopefully demonstrate the strength of a politician willing to stand up for human treatment of immigrants (Alexi Giannoulias – D) versus a politician opposed to comprehensive reform who believes in only enforcement related immigration policy (Mark Kirk – R). Immigration reform has become a much more significant factor in this race over the last several weeks. I am hopeful that a Democratic victory in this race could embolden Democratic leadership to recognize immigration is not an issue to continue to cede to the Republicans on enforcement only policy. A Giannoulias victory along with similar victories where immigration is a component of the race — such as Nevada and California — could go a long way to demonstrating to the Democratic leadership that immigration can be a winning issue even in a difficult political climate.

Rusten Hurd

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