OK, I admit it. I didn't make it through President Obama's entire immigration address last night. If you blog about immigration, you probably should sit through these things, no matter how painful they are. But after the president said, "I've seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn't have the right papers," I turned off the TV, fearing that if I swallowed any more of what he was peddling, I might vomit all over my favorite couch.
I voted for the guy (twice!), despite the fact that I dislike his approach to the immigration issue, and I generally like him as a person. (As a president, not nearly as much.) But there's only so much hogwash any one person can swallow. There are so many things to dislike about the president's speech and his executive action, but here are a few points to consider:
- "Just because they didn't have the right papers" – This was the line that had me reaching for my remote control and a bottle of Alka-Seltzer. Using the slang term "papers" to describe a person's legal status is a big pet peeve of mine. It's bad enough that members of the media seem to be using it more and more, but why is our Commander-in-Chief resorting to it? It's a flippant way to treat an important topic. Talking about having "the right papers" makes it seem as though becoming an American resident or citizen is just a matter of paperwork, mere bureaucracy. And the term devalues the whole process. Immigration used to be about an ideal. People came to America for a better life and to become Americans. Now it's just a matter of paperwork?
- Families torn apart – because returning to their home country together just isn't an option, right? – The first part of the president's "right papers" line referred to children fearing that their mothers would be taken away from them and he also said that illegal immigrants had to remain "in the shadows" (another horrible cliché) or "risk their families being torn apart." We've heard all of this before but what is particularly annoying is the assumption that families cannot stay together and simply return to their home countries. There are probably less than a dozen countries in the world where it simply isn't safe for families return to.
- Illegal immigrants don't work any "harder" than anyone else – The president made two references to how "hard working" the migrants who will benefit from his amnesty supposedly are. Ethnic stereotypes are lame whether they are used in a positive or negative context and the "hard-working" illegal immigrant stereotype is beyond cliché. Categorizing millions of people as lazy, hard-working, or anything in between is dumb. Just as there are all kinds of Americans, and all kinds of legal immigrants, so too are there many types of illegal immigrants.
- The "line" to enter the U.S. starts outside the country – In referring to the Senate's amnesty bill, the president said that the beneficiaries would have joined "the back of the line." I can't decide what I hate more, the use of the term "papers" to describe legal status or the bogus claim that people already living here are somehow still in line to come and live here. Coming to America isn't a matter of standing in line, like you're waiting for a bus. If it were, we'd have 2 billion people and air that isn't safe to breathe.
- "Those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded" – Now this was a truly bizarre phrase if ever there was one. Here the president is once again talking about this mythical line, which does not exist. How on earth can he say with a straight face that the executive amnesty isn't a reward, a slam-dunk vindication for those who decided to emigrate illegally? Think about it this way. Two friends came to the U.S. with tourist visas five years ago, Vladimir and Sergei. Vladimir decided to stay on illegally past the expiration of his visa. Sergei wanted to stay too, but he didn't want to break the law, so he went back to Siberia. You tell me whose decision is looking smarter right now.
- A few other things the president forgot to mention – What the president failed to disclose is the impact his move will have on the country and our immigration system. He didn't mention the detrimental impact that moving millions from the gray economy into the mainstream labor market will have on our already stagnant wages. He didn't admit that amnesty beneficiaries will be eligible for affirmative action programs, that will, in some cases, give them hiring preferences over others. And the president didn't disclose that the details of his plan will be lost on millions around the world who aspire to live in the U.S. or the fact that many will now rush to come to the U.S. in the hopes that they can cook up false documents and benefit from the executive action.