Photographs of President Obama shooting pool and drinking beer in Denver on Tuesday evening with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper were a bit much for Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Democrat who represents the Laredo area in South Texas. “When I saw that, it just really floored me,” Cuellar said on Andrea Mitchell's MSNBC program. “If he's saying he's too busy to go down to the border, but you have time to drink a beer, play pool -- the optics and the appearance just mean he's not paying attention to this humanitarian crisis.”
The crisis Cuellar referred to, of course, is the mass migration of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children, some younger than eight years old, across Mexico and into Texas. It began two years ago and has steadily grown bigger ever since. Obama is in Texas this week to appear at three glitzy campaign fundraisers for his party, but he has refused invitations to visit the border to see firsthand what he has already called a “humanitarian crisis.” It only makes matters worse that Obama unwittingly (though perhaps not unpredictably) helped cause the problem as rumors spread in Latin America about his executive policy of not deporting some people who entered the U.S. illegally as children.
As Obama enjoyed his game of pool, his administration was dithering on a potentially more threatening immigration question, pertaining to illegal migrants who have been convicted of crimes. For years, immigration enforcement has routinely asked sheriffs to hold foreign convicts for collection and deportation proceedings at the end of their sentences. Obama actually expanded this practice. It has long been a non-controversial matter to deport criminals who entered the U.S. illegally.
But a series of federal court decisions has cast the legality of this practice into doubt. In April, a federal court decision in Oregon found that Clackamas County officials violated the constitutional rights of a Mexican national who had violated a domestic violence restraining order. They made the mistake of holding her for an extra 19 hours so Homeland Security officials could come and pick her up.
As a result, the nation's sheriffs are now confused about what they can legally do without being sued. Months after the Oregon case and a related case out of Pennsylvania in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, they're not getting any guidance from Obama. According to the New York Times, the Obama administration has not commented on any of the relevant cases or signaled any attempt at a legal response. Sheriffs are frustrated, and some who used to hand over dozens of foreign convicts to DHS each month are now simply releasing them back into local communities.
If Obama is avoiding even the question of deporting illegal immigrants who have committed crimes, it doesn't bode well for his ability to sort out the thorny and complicated humanitarian crisis unfolding at the border. Instead of grabbing another cold one and playing eight-ball, the president should step up and do his job.