By denouncing the White House’s decision to rescind protections for Daca recipients, Obama has reminded the world of what a real leader looks like
Barack Obama finally came for Donald Trump’s White House. In a statement released on Facebook, Obama called Trump’s move to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, which protects 800,000 young migrants from deportation, “cruel” and contrary to “basic decency”. This is the kind of political leadership that our country is sorely lacking right now.
Since vacating the office, Obama has struggled to develop a public voice. His absence from civic life made the news that he would be paid $400,000 for Wall Street speeches all the more frustrating for many supporters. That’s why Obama’s words on Tuesday were a breath of fresh air and perhaps a sign that he is hitting his stride again. Given everything going on in the world, we need him to be heard.
Although he did not name Trump, Obama said the “action that the White House took” wasn’t “required legally”. Rather, he said it was “self-defeating” and “contrary to our spirit, and to common sense”. This careful yet forceful statement is the highlight of his post-presidency.
Obama’s condemnation of the White House’s action may indicate a tipping point in what has largely been a one-sided hostility between Trump and Obama. Stretching back to his peddling of “birther” lies about Obama, Trump has made a political career out of vilifying and opposing the first African American president.
Trump’s presidency has been premised on the desire to undo everything that Obama accomplished, from the Affordable Care Act, to normalizing relations with Cuba, to the Iran nuclear deal, all the way to Daca. The formula has been: repeal out of spite with little to no thought on how to replace.
Obama has shown incredible restraint, with perhaps the biggest counter-attack being his comedic roast of Trump at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011.
Obama left a respectful inauguration day letter for Trump that notably included the following advice: “It’s up to us to do everything we can to build more ladders of success for every child and family that’s willing to work hard.” Given Trump’s decision on Daca, it is clear the new president is willfully ignoring those words.
Still, despite Obama’s move to condemn Trump’s actions, it’s important to acknowledge that Obama has had his own serious shortcomings on immigration.
Nearly 3 million immigrants were deported under Obama – more than under any other American president. Despite his claim that primarily criminals were targeted for deportation, public records show that non-criminals accounted for 45% of deportations carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2012.
Some experts estimate that if all deportations – including those at the border and those carried out by other agencies – are factored in, about 56% of immigrants who were removed from the country between 2009 and 2015 were non-criminals.
Obama’s creation of the child migrants program was certainly a positive step. It provided temporary protections and work eligibility to 800,000 undocumented youths. Nonetheless, his aggressiveness in deporting other immigrants – which earned him the moniker the “deporter-in-chief” – complicates his immigration legacy.
Still, by speaking out, we saw a glimmer of Obama at his best. His camp says he is working behind the scenes to help the Dreamer community in this difficult time. Those close to Obama say he is being cautious because he is aware that any misstep might become ammunition for a backlash against him – a backlash which would ultimately harm undocumented people even more.
I have been very critical of Obama’s leadership at times. I’ve found that his rhetoric has often outstripped his record. Nevertheless, I think it’s important that Obama is speaking up now. This country needs all of the good leadership that it can get.
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