When former President Obama was inaugurated as president, third-grade me was thrilled. He was the first black president and he was a Democrat, a fact that I didn’t know much about but that I knew pleased my parents, especially after eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency. He was also, especially to young me, much more relatable than Bush ever was. He came from my city and was really devoted to his family — his promises to get his kids a puppy echoed the promises of my dad, and his relationship with his wife was both adorable and inspiring.
I learned as I got older that despite this, Obama still had his faults. One glaringly obvious one was his policy on deportations. Obama had long promised to reform immigration throughout his campaign, insisting that even though his policies may be “politically unpopular,” they were necessary to help increase immigration and support undocumented immigrants. However, throughout his first year in office, Obama failed to implement the immigration policies that he had promised to establish.
It is true that Obama did make some positive changes to help immigration. In 2012, he announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which allowed for undocumented immigrants under a certain age to gain temporary amnesty. DACA protected more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as young children. However, throughout this period, Obama also continued mass deportations. He relied on the Primary Enforcement Program, which works by sharing information from the FBI’s database of fingerprints collected by local law enforcement officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This allows for those arrested by local law enforcement officials for minor crimes to be deported.
Obama therefore ended up deporting 2.5 million undocumented immigrants throughout his two terms. He spent almost $18 billion on immigration enforcement in 2015, which is $3 billion more than the budgets of all other major federal domestic law enforcement agencies combined. Despite his promise that the deportations would only affect criminals, as of April 2014, two-thirds of the people that Obama deported had only committed minor crimes such as traffic violations or had not committed any prior crime. All in all, therefore, Obama failed miserably to implement the widespread immigration reform that he promised. Instead, he continued deportations at a large rate.
If you’re one of the people who thinks that Obama was “just doing his job” by continuing to deport undocumented immigrants, you should consider the case of Jose Marvin Martinez. His story illustrates that Obama’s policies have had devastating, real-life consequences. Martinez left Honduras for the United States after his brother was shot. In 2014, Obama’s policies sent him back to Honduras, and he was shot four months later by suspected gang members.
Another failure of Obama’s policy, according to the American Civil Liberties Union’s executive director Anthony Romero, is that Obama never actually eliminated the institutions that Bush had used to deport immigrants. Instead, he curbed some and continued some, but he left the structure of institutions such as 287(g), which allows local police to search for undocumented immigrants. Consequently, these institutions are already in place for President Donald Trump to use.
Obama made many promises. However, in the end, he chose to uphold systems that had been established by previous presidents and ended up deporting more undocumented immigrants than all other presidents in the 20th century combined. His policies cost lives.
Perhaps the reason that Obama’s betrayal feels most painful is because when he ran, he seemed funny and cool, with his awkward dad jokes and promise that he would do what was right even if it was unpopular. He also may be part of the reason that a Trump presidency hurts so much — Trump succeeded one of the most classy and diplomatic presidents that the United States ever had. Obama’s greatest skill may have been the fact that it was so easy to forget about him being a politician — until one learns about the lives his policies forever damaged.
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