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Democrats Were Oblivious About Immigration During the Obama Years. Now They're Enraged — and Hopefully Sorry

A sensible and humane immigration policy will mean far more than just reversing the particular actions from Trump.

 "It will mean things like abolishing the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (or better yet, the entire Department of Homeland Security)." (Photo: National Nurses United/flickr/cc)
"It will mean things like abolishing the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (or better yet, the entire Department of Homeland Security)." (Photo: National Nurses United/flickr/cc)

America has been transfixed by President Trump's grotesquely evil policy of wrenching apart the families of asylum seekers at the border — literally snatching children away from their parents for the crime of trying to escape from murderous drug cartels or violent political instability. Documents obtained by MSNBC's Chris Hayes reveal that 91 percent of families having their children stolen are only "guilty" of the misdemeanor of first-time border crossing.

One mark of how vile this policy is can been seen in the behavior of Trump himself, who has consistently been trying to falsely blame Democrats for his own policy. (He can generally sense when something is playing extremely poorly in the news.) Of course, that runs headlong into alternative conservative explanations that the separation policy is a.) not happening and b.) it's actually fine that it's happening.

But Trump's foul dishonesty gains a certain surface plausibility due to the fact that the recent liberal record on immigration is really bad. Liberals will have to reckon with their own abysmal failures if they're serious about creating a pro-immigration rights coalition to take back power and fix this mess.


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As a matter of historical record, Barack Obama's record on immigration was profoundly wretched, especially in his first term (but not entirely). As part of his moronic strategy of trying to achieve bipartisan compromise by appeasing Republicans, he massively increased roundups and deportations of unauthorized immigrants already in the country (to be fair, border apprehensions were much lower than either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton, though that is mostly due to a sharp decline in immigration flows from Mexico during the recession). It didn't work, of course; conservatives were unalterably convinced that Obama was an immigration lover no matter what he did. By 2013 his administration was slowing deportations, leading to the DACA policy of quasi-legal status for unauthorized immigrants who had been brought here as children.

The broad American left (myself included) was not properly concerned with Obama's mass deportations when they were at their worst from about 2009-12. While many activists were shouting themselves hoarse over the practice, most traditional liberals figured that Obama was probably doing alright and didn't look too hard at the details. Hillary Clinton — as usual badly behind the curve in such matters — argued as late as 2015 that child migrants from Central America seeking asylum should be deported to "send a message" to their families.

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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.

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