Disaster, then détente

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 25, 2010

The rest of the conservative world ignored them, and has offered very little criticism of Obama's response to Haiti.

Undocumented fears
Considering how contentious the political theater has been in the first year of Obama's administration, it's been particularly striking how little conservative outrage there has been over the issue of Haitians currently living illegally in the US.

Pressure on the Obama administration from the left, meanwhile, began immediately after the quake struck; the White House quickly agreed to postpone the active deportation of Haitians. Aside from a few howls from the right, this action went almost totally unnoticed.

The left pushed even further. A group of US senators — including John Kerry and Paul Kirk of Massachusetts — sent a letter to the president urging him to grant temporary protected status (TPS) to all undocumented Haitians in the US. Others have called for total amnesty.

Obama won't go that far, but late last week he granted an 18-month TPS for Haitians who were here before the earthquake struck.

Fears of a conservative backlash turned out to be for naught. Most politicians, even those who routinely condemn illegal immigration in the harshest terms, realize that it would be a PR disaster to insist upon sending families back to the horrid conditions being shown on TV.

Amazingly, then, Obama was able to grab the political hot potato of illegal immigration without causing a fuss.

That had to be a relief for Scott Brown, in the special election for US Senate. Brown, a Republican, took a party-line hard stand against illegal immigration, but did not make it a centerpiece of his campaign — perhaps learning a lesson from the last prominent Republican to do so in Massachusetts, failed congressional candidate Jim Ogonowski.

The Brown campaign would not tell the Phoenix whether Brown supports or opposes the granting of TPS to Haitians. (His vanquished opponent, Martha Coakley, supports it.) He surely wouldn't have wanted to look so mean-spirited as to oppose it, but also couldn't afford to speak out in favor of it while raising money from national conservatives.

Fortunately for Brown, the issue gained no political traction, which allowed him to ignore it and stay out of trouble — like most others in the GOP have done.

Now that he is heading to Washington, it will be interesting to see what Brown and his fellow Republicans have to say later this year, when the Senate is expected to take up a major immigration-reform bill. When they decry all amnesty and sympathy for undocumented aliens, as they surely will, how will they square that with their lack of objection to TPS for Haitians?

Not to worry; it is unlikely that they will be made to account for that difference, because by then, in terms of the American consciousness, Haiti will probably have gone the way of Myanmar.

To read the "Talking Politics" blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at dbernstein@phx.com.

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