Former Vice President Joe Biden is reluctant to admit that the Obama administration wasn’t spotless. The administration’s record of deportation, in particular, has already come to mar the shiny sheen of Obama’s legacy, and is emphasized by the Trump administration’s further villainization of immigrants, asylum seekers, and the undocumented. Yet Biden fails to realize that simply not being Trump is cold comfort to immigrants and activists, whose nightmare didn’t just begin when Trump entered the White House.
Biden’s misunderstanding of the stakes was evident Thursday night during a town hall in Greenwood, South Carolina, where protesters from Coasecha Movement, an activist group dedicated to ending deportation, confronted him. How, they wondered, could he be trusted to protect their communities from predatory immigration policy when he defends the policies that were in place during the Obama administration? Biden’s response: Vote for Trump if you’re so pressed.
Protestor Carlos Rojas acted as a Spanish-to-English translator for a woman who asked Biden if he would promise to end deportations on day one of his presidency. Biden said, “No, I will not stop all deportations, I will prioritize deportations [for] people who have committed a felony or serious crime.”
Here’s what followed:
Rojas: I’m going to translate for her, but I want you to know that in 2008 I was a volunteer for Obama because I had hope and I believed in the promises he made to the immigrant community. The fact is that over those eight years, over 3 million people were deported and separated from families. We had this classification of families—
Biden: Well, you should vote for Trump. You should vote for Trump.
Rojas: No, no, I’m not gonna do that. I want to make sure immigrant families and people like Silvia are not afraid. And you have the power as a candidate to actually commit to stop all deportation from day one. And we want to hear you say that.
Biden: I will not stop all deportations. If you have a—if you commit a crime, that’s a felony.
Bernie Sanders says his presidency will bring about a moratorium on deportations and end ICE. Elizabeth Warren says she is open to suspending deportation as well, particularly as a means to push for comprehensive immigration control.
Biden clearly finds these measures absurd, because he presented this mind-blowing thought exercise as protestors clamored around him: “Somebody commits murder, they shouldn’t be deported?”
Millions of people who were deported under the Obama administration were not violent people with felony convictions. And using anecdotes of violent undocumented immigrants to support a cruel, largely arbitrary deportation policy is an impulse that is positively Trumpian, no matter how much Biden resents the comparison. (During the June debates, when asked about the Obama era deportations, Biden said, “President Obama, I think, did a heck of a job. To compare him to what [Trump] is doing is…close to immoral.”)
Biden insisted that there would be no family separations if he is the President of the United States. But that’s not true. Because family separation isn’t just the Trump-era policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Family separation also occurs when mothers get deported after traffic violations. It occurs when fathers are denied legal residency. It occurs when ICE raids upend the lives of young adults who only know the United States and are sent to countries they’ve never known. Deportation is family separation, and until Biden acknowledges the shortcomings of the Obama administration’s immigration policy, he’s not a candidate the undocumented can trust.