Gun-Running, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Border Crisis

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 7 2014 10:15 AM

Gun-Running, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Border Crisis

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He doesn't care much about politics, just a better life

Photo by Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images

The Fast and Furious scandal, if you've forgotten, concerned the bloody aftermath of a Three Stooges plan to let guns "walk" into Mexico so that federal agents could track down their eventual owners.

Right, right, it didn't make much sense—except as the casus belli for a gun-grab. That was the NRA's going theory from the time the scandal broke to whenever we stopped hearing about it. "Over a period of two or three years, they were running thousands and thousands of guns to the most evil people on Earth," said the NRA's Wayne LaPierre in 2011, with his usual lack of hyperbole. "At the same time they were yelling ’90 percent … of the guns the Mexican drug cartels are using come from the United States.'"

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The theory was that the Obama administration wanted to stoke a crisis in order to build political momentum for gun control. No federal gun control bill was backed by the administration until the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings. But the mindset—that this White House is so tricky, so venal, so incompetent that it will set Reichstags on fire—is still with us.*

Example: Last week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry testified on the crisis of young would-be illegal immigrants surging across the border. He then went on Fox News to speculate about why this was happening.

"We either have an incredibly inept administration, or they're in on this somehow or another," said Perry. "I mean, I hate to be conspiratorial, but I mean, how do you move that many people from Central America across Mexico and then into the United States without there being a fairly coordinated effort?"

ABC News' Martha Raddatz got Perry on the network's Sunday talk show, where she asked him to revise and extend the remarks. "We have been bringing to the attention of President Obama and his administration since 2010, he received a letter from me on the tarmac," Perry said. "I have to believe that when you do not respond in any way, that you are either inept, or you have some ulterior motive of which you are functioning from." Given the chance to explain that he was just using a rhetorical flourish, Perry repeated himself.

And why shouldn't he? The data shows that deportations of undocumented immigrants under 18 have tumbled since a peak in 2008, and tumbled further since Obama's 2012 announcement of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

The White House's response: Hey, look again at that 2008 number. In 2008, in the lame-duck session of a presidential year when the party's president and nominee were both immigration reformers, Congress easily passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act. (Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian who led the slavery abolition movement, had just been portrayed in a sleeper film.) No one in the House or Senate opposed a law intended to rescue children from exploitative pimps—legislation that allowed young people to attain "special immigrant juvenile status." The Obama administration is citing this as the reason why deportations have plunged, and asked Congress to fix it. We dare you. You just killed immigration reform—now, go ahead and make it easier to for young Central Americans to be sent into sex slavery. (I'm paraphrasing.)

So nothing's going to get done. It's broadly true that the administration has pursued policies that it hoped would make immigration reform easier to pass. The main policy: more processing and removal of illegal immigrants. Through 2013, the Obama administration could say that it was "removing" more illegal immigrants than the Bush administration had. And indeed, the clout and energy of anti-reform groups had faded from 2007 (the last time Congress fought over a bill) to 2012. The hope was that the decreased pressure would cut a path through Congress.

Didn't work. The mistrust just ran too deep. The idea of a bumbling, scheming Obama administration stoking the border crisis for its own gain fits snugly with the 2014 conservative theory of how this administration works.

*To be perfectly fair, incoming White House chief of staff did say "you never let a serious crisis go to waste" back in 2008, meaning that the empowered Democrats would respond to the financial crisis by passing some long-stalled priorities.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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