I've said that President Obama should just stop talking about immigration. The topic isn't his strong suit. He doesn't understand the terrain. And he's not believable.
When asked about his administration's record number of deportations, he is prone to -- as New York-based immigration lawyer Bryan Johnson put it on his firm's blog -- "expressing his indifference at the destruction of immigrant families."
In fact, the whole subject appears to vex Obama, who can't make up his mind whether he wants to protect undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom -- as he has acknowledged -- are just hard-working people trying to support their families, or whether he thinks that his job is to protect U.S. workers who don't want to compete and blame new arrivals for taking jobs and lowering wages. So Obama splits the difference by promising to give illegal immigrants earned citizenship, while -- back at the ranch -- the Department of Homeland Security is giving more than 30,000 folks a month a one-way ticket out of the country and giving their U.S.-born children a new set of foster parents.
Recently, Obama took this shell game to Las Vegas where he gambled that Latinos would be long on hope and short on memory. He delivered a speech on immigration that could have helped turn things around but instead turned out to be a dud. He mentioned a bipartisan Senate plan that takes a stab at comprehensive immigration reform but only gave lukewarm praise for the effort -- even though, the day before, one of the plan's co-sponsors, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, said at a Washington news conference that Obama endorsed the plan.
The event itself was little more than a pep rally intended to show the immigration reform community that Obama is still interested in a topic about which he has never been much interested. And the most bizarre part was that there were people in the audience applauding on cue when Obama wasn't saying anything worth applauding.
NBC Latino contributor Stephen A. Nuno, who is also an assistant professor at Northern Arizona University, zeroed in on that element of the spectacle. He called it an "awkward jubilee" where Latinos got nothing but were expected to act as if they had been given everything.
There's a palpable sense of disappointment on the left. There should be. When it comes to immigration, they've been lied to, manipulated, and played for fools too many times by this president and this administration. Of course, those of us who have been paying attention to how Obama toys with the issue aren't at all shocked.
Although, I admit I was shocked when Obama started his immigration speech by recognizing, among the "notable guests" in the room, "our outstanding secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano."
Let me get this straight. Obama took time out from a speech about how to fix the nation's broken immigration system to honor one of the people who by her actions has made matters worse.
Since she oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Napolitano is the Obama administration's de-facto Deportation Czar -- a role that she has agreed to carry on for another four years, and which she fulfills with gusto.
Defenders of the administration say that Napolitano is merely following the law. But it's more complicated. The law doesn't just mean rounding up and deporting people, it also means preserving the discretion that police and prosecutors have to make judgment calls -- including about who they turn over to immigration officials and who they don't. Battered wives, for instance, have often fallen into the "don't" category because law enforcement didn't want victims of domestic violence who are undocumented to stop contacting police when they're abused.
This is no longer the case. Napolitano helped destroy such discretion by forcing upon cities and states the heavily-criticized program Secure Communities, which requires local and state police to give federal authorities the fingerprints of anyone they arrest or detain and is suspected of being in the country illegally.
When Democratic governors such as Pat Quinn of Illinois, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and Andrew Cuomo of New York tried to exit the program, Napolitano told them they couldn't.
Part bureaucrat and part bully, the secretary of homeland security isn't the solution to our immigration woes. She's part of the problem. The fact that Obama doesn't see this tells you that Napolitano is probably just carrying out orders, and the bullying starts at the top.
Contact Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.