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Immigration

Obama en Español: U.S. President Tours Latin America, Talks Chilean Miners, His Own Stellar Immigration Policy (Really?)

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Thu, Mar 24, 2011 at 3:15 PM

click to enlarge Barack and Michelle, lookin' the part - THE DAILY BEAST
  • The Daily Beast
  • Barack and Michelle, lookin' the part
Updated after the jump: The president makes his last stop in El Salvador.

If there's one thing our POTUS can do, it's talk. Barack Obama could talk himself out of Guantanamo Bay through a thick swatch of duct tape.

In perfect form, he turned on the charm down in Latin America this week, on an awkwardly timed tour (given the pressing situations in both Japan and the Middle East) to solidify relations with our southern neighbors. You know -- the ones we like to detain on a whim, slap on the wrist (or better yet, taser) and dump back over the border.

In the ever-optimistic eyes of Obama, speaking in the wealthiest of Latin American countries yesterday -- the democratic, socially progressive, newly Hollywoodized Chile -- immigration under his administration has been going just swimmingly. From his suave speech in Santiago:

"We are a nation of immigrants, which is why I have consistently spoken out against anti-immigrant sentiment. We're also a nation of laws, which is why I will not waver in my determination to fix our broken immigration system. I'm committed to comprehensive reform that secures our borders, enforces our laws and addresses the millions of undocumented workers who are living in the shadows of the United States.

I believe, though, that this challenge will be with us for a very long time so long as people believe that the only way to provide for their families is to leave their families and head north.

And that's why the United States has to continue to partner with countries that pursue the broad-based economic growth that gives people and nations a path out of poverty. And that's what we're seeing here in Chile. As part of our new approach to development, we're working with partners, like Guatemala and El Salvador, who are committed to building their own capacity -- from helping farmers improve crop yields to helping health care systems to deliver better care."

His words are noble. But in reality, his idea of "securing our borders" has consisted of sending $500 million worth more troops to form a primitive human wall -- resulting in a higher rate of immigrant deaths than ever before, as they are forced to cross in more treacherous places.

Roxie Bacon, former chief counsel to the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service, wrote a scathing column on the Obama administration's approach to regulating immigration in the most recent issue of the Arizona Attorney:

"Customs & Border Patrol and Immigration & Customs Enforcement went into overdrive to detain more people, remove more people and exercise less discretion than at any time in our nation's modern history. Progressive became regressive, and the promised helping hand had a serious slap to it."

click to enlarge Not everyone in Chile returns Obama's metaphorical hug - ALLCHILE.NET
  • AllChile.net
  • Not everyone in Chile returns Obama's metaphorical hug
Almost as an antidote to his far-left stance on health care, welfare and gay rights, Obama has appeased conservatives by taking the popular band-aid approach to immigration: Find 'em (by any means possible) and boot 'em.

ICE officers have gone rampant under Obama's watch, detaining Latinos for nothing more than a broken headlight and flinging them over the Mexican border without so much as their cellphones. Don't believe us? Go visit the immigrant houses in Tijuana and Mexicali, where hundreds of decades-long U.S. residents have been stripped of their families, their lives and their dignity. (And that's not to speak of four-year-old Emily Ruiz.)

In her column, Bacon also points to U.S. unfriendliness in the wake of the Haiti quake -- turning our backs on refugees -- and our refusal to let hardworking immigrant students earn their way into our university system under the DREAM Act. These are the most basic of immigration reforms, and Obama is too wussy, faced with a Republican legislature, to put his strength behind them.

Fox News is reporting Obama's five-day trip to Latin America as a failure -- a meatless "vacation" while more pressing international issues rage on.

We wouldn't go that far.

A Politico correspondant reports that "the main accomplishment of the trip is reinforcing the U.S.'s intersts in Latin America, and its seriousness in addressing the issues of concern in the region."

Addressing those concerns will be crucial, and Obama had some forward-thinking things to say about improving Latin America from the inside out, so emigration doesn't have to be the only option. But he's got a horrendous track record in that arena, and it'll take a lot more than a heartwarming speech ("Their resolve and faith inspired the world -- Los Treinta y Tres," he gushed of the miners) to make it happen.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera knows that reality all too well. Via the Associated Press:

Pinera pressed Obama to complete pending trade deals with Panama and Colombia. And in an interview with The Associated Press the day after Obama's departure from the Chilean capital, Pinera said he would request U.S. intelligence documents related to human rights violations during the Pinochet dictatorship - an uncomfortable chapter for the United States because it backed his regime.

So far, Obama has spoken in Brasil and Chile. We'll update with his final speech today from El Salvador, the poorest country of the three, where his comments arguably matter most.

Update: UCLA professor Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, who was along for the presidential parade in El Salvador, called the Weekly yesterday to confirm our worst beefs with Obama's failed immigration policy. But don't lose heart -- the professor says this olive-branch trip to Latin America may be a turning point. See: "UCLA Professor: Cash From L.A. ($20 Million Per Year) Makes Up Half the Economy in One Part of El Salvador."

Today, the Los Angeles Times points out Obama's biggest economic motive in chumming up to Latin America: He wants the U.S. to replace China as its top trade partner. Peter Nicholas reports from San Salvador:

[Obama] would like to have come home with a few more deals sewn up. A major prize is a Brazilian contract for new fighter planes. But the fate of the contract is murky. The U.S. is one of several countries in the running.

Obama played pitchman, touting the F/A-18 Super Hornet as the "best plane on offer" in his private meeting Saturday with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, White House aides said.

While the mainstream press is generally unimpressed by how little Obama solidly accomplished on his visit to those other Americas, the gesture was momentous. If the president means/understands what he says about taking a preventative approach to immigration reform, Arizonan lunacy could soon be pushed from the forefront of the conversation.

From Obama's final speech in El Salvador:

"Institutional reforms may end up being more important -- or, at least, they have to go hand in hand, because what a country like El Salvador does not want is perpetually to be looking to the outside for its own development. Ultimately it wants to be able to find growth and tap into its own potential here inside the country."

Now, to convince a Congressful of Republicans.

Originally posted March 23 at 1:05 p.m.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]

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