Obama and the elephant in the room
By George E. Curry
George Curry Media Columnist
It’s been whispered for years so let’s deal with the elephant in the room: Many African Americans have privately complained that President Obama has catered to the needs of immigrants more than those of Blacks.
The fact that neither group fits in a separate and unique block notwithstanding, an examination of government figures shows that in at least two areas – deportations and presidential pardons – that’s not true.
Let’s first address immigration.
“Since coming to office in 2009, Obama’s government has deported more than 2.5 million people – up 23% from the George W. Bush years,” Fusion observed. “More shockingly, Obama is now on pace to deport more people than the sum of all 19 presidents who governed the United States from 1892-2000, according to government data.
“…And he’s not done yet. With the clock ticking down his final months in office, Obama appears to be running up the score in an effort to protect his title as deporter-in-chief from future presidents. To pad the numbers, Homeland Security is now going after the lowest-hanging fruit: women and children who are seeking asylum from violence in Central America.
“‘This is the only time I remember enforcement raids on families of women and children who are fleeing some of the most violent places on the planet,’ says Royce Bernstein Murray, director of policy for the National Immigrant Justice Center. ‘The families came to the U.S. looking for a hand, but they got the boot.'”
Under the headline, “Barack Obama, deporter-in-chief,” the Economist magazine declared,”America is expelling illegal immigrants at nine times the rate of 20 years ago (see article); nearly 2m so far under Barack Obama, easily outpacing any previous president. Border patrol agents no longer just patrol the border; they scour the country for illegals to eject. The deportation machine costs more than all other areas of federal criminal law-enforcement combined.”
Also troubling are accusations of racial profiling.
In February, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) filed a federal lawsuit demanding that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) release data about the use of racial profiling in the controversial program known as the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), formerly Secure Communities.
Despite the soaring deportations under Obama, Republicans accuse Obama of being soft on immigration. Meanwhile, progressives give Obama little credit for advances he has made trying to reform the criminal justice system.
“Today, the President announced 61 new grants of commutation to individuals serving years in prison under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws. More than one-third of them were serving life sentences. To date, the President has now commuted the sentences of 248 individuals – more than the previous six Presidents combined. And, in total, he has commuted 92 life sentences, the White House said in a statement March 30.
While Obama has commuted the sentences of 248 people, Ford commuted 22, Jimmy Carter 29, Ronald Reagan 13, George H.W. Bush 3, Bill Clinton 61, and George W. Bush 43.
A prisoner’s commutation of sentence involves the reduction of time being served. Unlike a pardon, it does not remove the conviction from that person’s record. Clemency reduces the penalty but also does not remove the conviction.
Obama met last week with commutation recipients from both his administration and those granted by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to discuss how the process can be strengthened.
Following lunch, Obama said, “But we’re not done, and we’re going to keep on working on this until I leave. It’s something that I’m going to keep on working on even after I leave the presidency, because – some of you know we had an Easter Prayer Breakfast with ministers, pastors from all around the country of all denominations in which we read Scripture and were reminded of Jesus’ teachings.
“And at the heart of my faith, and what I believe is at the heart of the American ideal is, is that we’re all imperfect. We all make mistakes. We have to own those mistakes. We have to take responsibility and learn from those mistakes. But we as a society have to make sure that people who do take responsibility and own and learn from those mistakes are able to continue to be part of the American family. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do.”
The president’s embrace of Kemba Smith, who was given a 24.5 year mandatory sentence at the age of 24 and pardoned in 2000 by Bill Clinton, was posted as photograph of the day on the White House website.
The White House statement, issued by White House Counsel Neil Eggleston, said,
“Despite the progress we have made, it is important to remember that clemency is nearly always a tool of last resort that can help specific individuals, but does nothing to make our criminal justice system on the whole more fair and just. Clemency of individual cases alone cannot fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies. So while we continue to work to resolve as many clemency applications as possible – and make no mistake, we are working hard at this – only broader criminal justice reform can truly bring justice to the many thousands of people behind bars serving unduly harsh and outdated sentences.”
Obama has additional work to do on both criminal justice and immigration reform.
George E. Curry is President and CEO of George Curry Media, LLC. He is the former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA). He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at twitter.com/currygeorge, George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook, and Periscope. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.