I know that Markos is convinced that immigration as a wedge issue was a big loser for Republicans, and I agree. Clearly they have gotten little or no traction from it electorally, and their dash headlong into the arms of xenophobes increasingly cements their status as a permanent minority party, particularly as the Hispanic population grows and becomes a political force.

However, that’s a reality of politics that’s going to play out over the next decade or so. Right now, the anti-immigrant forces have shown sufficient perceived power to send Republicans (and more than a few Democrats) cowering. And the policies that have been implemented since the last attempt at comprehensive immigration reform are incredibly damaging and catastrophic. The consequences of waiting for the politics to become more favorable are grave.


Everybody chided Hillary Clinton for her not-entirely-coherent views on the policy of the then-governor from New York, Eliot Spitzer, to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. There was a lot of demagoguery in the press and the plan fizzled in New York and on the national stage. There were consequences to that failure.

Luz Gonzalez used to take spur-of-the-moment trips to the beach. Now, she’s afraid to drive to the doctor for checkups on her new pregnancy. She and her husband, Ismael, can no longer have a savings account or a car registered in their names. Every time they drive to church, they watch for the flash of blue lights in the mirror.

The Gonzalezes, who identified themselves by only one of their two surnames, are among many illegal immigrants in North Carolina who are beginning a new life — one without driver’s licenses. A 2006 state law made it impossible for illegal immigrants to renew their licenses. The change was talked about mostly as a tool to combat terrorism — several of the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks had licenses.

But it’s also created a crisis in the Hispanic community and a potential hazard on the roads. As licenses issued under the old rules expire, advocates and law enforcement authorities say many illegal immigrants, who number an estimated 300,000 in North Carolina, are now driving without licenses or insurance.

This is a public safety nightmare waiting to happen. Tens of thousands of unlicensed drivers on the roads, who may not know the traffic laws, who are sure to leave the scene of any accident lest they risk deportation – that has a deleterious effect on the nation’s roadways.

Then we have the dramatic increase in immigration prosecutions with the effective end of the “catch-and-release” program. Border enforcement officials are using the broadest possible definitions of “crime” to arrest virtually everyone found crossing the border, which is unsustainable and a distraction from actual border crimes like drug smuggling and human trafficking. This is especially true because border resources are finite – the money being put into failed initiatives like the virtual fence isn’t going into a law enforcement apparatus that is straining against having to arrest, house and prosecute all of these individuals. There’s border security and there’s “border security” which threatens actual security by tying up the tools of law enforcement. There’s also the fact that it’s a completely misplaced policy:

Others note that, historically, immigration violations have been processed by U.S. administrative courts. Criminalizing illegal immigration while turning a blind eye to employers who provide the jobs that lure migrants makes for good election-year politics but poor policy, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council.

“This strategy pretty much has it backwards,” he said. “It’s going after desperate people who are crossing the border in search of a better way of life, instead of going after employers who are hiring people who have no right to work in this country.”

And this hardline crackdown, thoroughly supported by a Democratic establishment that thinks a tough stance on enforcement is their way out of the immigration issue, means that things like this happen for no reason whatsoever:

In May 2007, Victoria Arellano, a 23-year-old transgender immigrant from Mexico, was sent to a detention center in San Pedro after being arrested on a traffic charge.

Arellano, who was born a male and had come to the United States illegally as a child, had AIDS at the time of her arrest but exhibited no symptoms of the disease because of the medication she took daily. But once detained, her health began to deteriorate.She lost weight and became sick. She repeatedly pleaded with staff members at the detention center to see a doctor to get the antibiotics she needed to stay alive, according to immigrant detainees with whom Arellano shared a dormitory-style cell. But her requests were routinely ignored.

The task of caring for Arellano fell to her fellow detainees. They dampened their own towels and used them to cool her fever; they turned cardboard boxes into makeshift trash cans to collect her vomit. As her condition worsened, the detainees, outraged that Arellano was not being treated, staged a strike: They refused to get in line for the nightly head count until she was taken to the detention center’s infirmary.

Officials relented, and Arellano was sent to the infirmary, then to a hospital nearby. But after two days there — and after having spent two months at the federally operated facility — she died of an AIDS-related infection. Her family has taken steps to file a wrongful-death claim against the federal government.

These immigration detention centers are growing as the “prosecute everyone” philosophy pervades all levels of government. They have no minimum standards to provide healthcare and are mainly managed by private contractors. The immigrants inside these detention centers are not even under criminal charges, but civil violations as they await deportation. The next detainee may be this valedictorian who has lived in America since he was 2 years old:

Arthur Mkoyan’s 4.0 grade-point average has made him a valedictorian at Bullard High School in Fresno and qualified him to enter one of the state’s top universities.

But while his classmates look forward to dorm food and college courses this fall, Arthur Mkoyan may not make it.

He is being deported.

Arthur, 17, and his mother have been ordered out of the country. By late June, they may be headed to Armenia […]

Mark Silverman, director of immigration policy at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco, said Arthur Mkoyan’s case illustrates why Congress should have passed the Dream Act. The act would have allowed students who excelled in school and stayed out of trouble to become permanent residents and attend college or enlist in the military

“There’s something very wrong with the immigration laws when our government is deporting our best students,” Silverman said.

Absolutely right, but Democrats were confident that they would win this debate in the long run if they didn’t rock the boat and offer a sensible alternative to a xenophobic hardline set of policies. As a result, bright students are being sent away, hundreds of thousands are driving without licenses, law enforcement can’t focus on actual security measures, and immigrants are dying – needlessly.

It’s not enough to just “win” politically on this issue. There has to be some actual conviction to stand up to pernicious policies that warehouse humans, deny them basic medical care, and hold children responsible for the actions of their parents. Republicans didn’t care that their position has been discredited at the ballot box – they kept forging ahead. The Rahm Emanuel position is to encourage Democrats to take a right-wing stance to defuse the issue until such a time as it’s politically convenient. Arthur Mkoyan and Victoria Arellano won’t have the luxury of waiting around.