Finally, a News Anchor Challenged the President Over Deportations

A few editorial pages do it, immigrant-rights and Latino advocates certainly do it, but mainstream news outlets, not so much. That is, forcefully challenge President Obama on immigration – on the disconnect between his oratory about hopes and dreams and his actual deportation record; and on the dissonance behind his recently announced plan to use executive action to defer deportations for millions. He kept saying he couldn’t legally do such a thing – until he did it.

Jorge Ramos, the anchor for Univision and the new cable network Fusion, a venture of ABC and Univision, interviewed Mr. Obama on Tuesday, and, unlike so many of his counterparts on Anglo TV, cut right to the heart of the matter.

Mr. Ramos asked why the president deported some two million people if he “always had the legal authority to stop deportations.” He said to Mr. Obama’s face that he had“destroyed many families,”and added that activists called him “the deporter-in-chief’.”

Mr. Ramos then insisted that “you could’ve stopped deportations.”

The president responded:

That is not true Listen, here’s the fact of the matter. Jorge, here’s the fact of the matter. As president of the United States, I’m always responsible for problems that aren’t solved right away. I regret millions of people who didn’t get health insurance before I passed health insurance, and before I implemented it. I regret the fact that there are kids who should’ve been going to college during my presidency, but because we didn’t get to them fast enough, they gave up on college.

The question is: Are we doing the right thing, and have we consistently tried to move this country in a better direction? And those — like you, sometimes, Jorge — who just suggest that there are simple, quick answers to these problems … when you present it in that way, it does a disservice, because it makes the assumption that the political process is one that can easily be moved around depending on the will of one person. And that’s not how things work.

It was a pretty good comeback by Mr. Obama, who has not often been forced to publicly defend himself against the frustration on the pro-immigrant left. Mr. Obama was technically correct in suggesting that he has no power to entirely, completely and immediately shut down all deportations.

But that is not what most advocates had been asking him to do. And Mr. Ramos was entirely right to note Mr. Obama’s evolution on this question. For most of his presidency Mr. Obama has kept the deportation machinery running on overdrive, while continually playing down his ability to act boldly, independently of Congress, to protect people from deportation. That was the strategy he followed, until he changed it.

Lawrence Downes