Cennamology Chief Editor
"Obama's Katrina" is what the current crisis of hordes of immigrant children crossing the border has been dubbed by the political media, implying that if President Obama does not visit the border in the next few weeks, it would be akin to President Bush's failure to visit New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
So should Obama stay in Washington to deal with the crisis with Congress or should he go to the border to observe the situation first-hand? If he chooses to stay, would it be an irresponsible move on the president's part? If he chooses to go, would Obama's presence at the border be a distraction for law enforcement and others trying to manage the situation?
Two Democratic Congressmen from Texas who represent border districts gave advice to the president that contradicted each other. According to an article by the Washington Post, Reps. Pete Gallego and Henry Cuellar represent a combined 1,000 miles of the United States - Mexico border, which is almost half of the border.
Rep. Cuellar, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, which is composed of the more conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives, suggested Obama do the opposite of what Gallego recommends. Cuellar said that the communities along the border, including those in his district, want to see President Obama come to the border to see what is going on and and be less detached from the situation.
Both of these Hispanic Congressmen, whose districts border each other as well as Mexico, represent two vastly different views of how Obama should respond to the influx of young illegal immigrants, most of whom are fleeing from oppressive regimes in Central America. These two different views show that no matter what Obama ultimately decides to do, he will be criticized. In American politics, criticism of Obama no matter what he decides today is even more certain than death and taxes.
Even though he will face criticism no matter which congressman's advice he ends up following, he should take the advice of Rep. Cuellar. Direct observation of the situation will result in more effective and informed decisions, and this is only possible if Obama takes a trip to the border.
Bush was, and still is, criticized for his response to Hurricane Katrina because he was very detached from the situation, which resulted in poor decisions and incompetent leadership and the Gulf region suffered because of it. Bush's failure to visit New Orleans meant that he was never able to gain the knowledge of the situation that can only be gained through direct observation. For example, the aftermath of Katrina can only be told so much through pictures and videos on evening news reports, but seeing the devastation with your own two eyes without a screen in between is the only way to be exposed to the reality of the situation.
Obama must not make the same mistake that Bush did with Katrina. Obama must follow his own example that he set with his response to Hurricane Sandy. Obama's response to Sandy was highly praised by both political parties because he went to see the destruction up close and visited New Jersey to talk to the real people whose lives were turned upside down from the storm. He did not depend on advisers or on television reports to tell him the details of the situation, he went to directly observe the situation to get the real stories. He must do the same with the border crisis. He must talk to both the immigrants and the border patrol and listen to what each side has to say. If he does not do this, he will not have the information necessary in order to make a truly informed decision on what to do next.
Administration officials have said that Obama currently has no plans to visit the border. However, those officials should not underestimate the educational value of direct observation. His advisers knew the value of direct observation in the Sandy aftermath, and they should realize the value of it here too as it is just as important in this situation as it was for Sandy.
There are numerous players at the center of the current border crisis - and the president must go and speak to all of them in person. These include the immigrant children, their parents, the border patrol officers, volunteers housing the children, citizens understandably adhering to NIMBYism worried about the effect that this immigration will have on their communities, and local politicians conflicted about how to respond to the situation. Obama has something to learn from all of these constituencies, and he cannot simply rely on letters and phone calls from those affected and recommendations from advisers. Requesting $3.7 billion in emergency funding was a satisfactory first step, but that cannot be all he is planning to do. Obama must visit the border to observe how a diversity of outcomes could impact the several players at the center of the situation - and also the consequences inaction would bring as well.
One of the first articles that I wrote for Cennamology said that in order for politicians to be truly effective in helping the most poor and vulnerable in our society, they need to personally know people who are struggling to make it in this country and form personal relationships with them. This is a form of direct observation, and the situation is no different in the current illegal immigration crisis. In order for Obama to make the right policy decisions, he needs to meet the people who will be affected by whatever decisions he may make and laws he may sign. He needs to visit, in person, the Central American immigrants and the citizens who live in the areas of Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico who will all be affected by any action taken on illegal immigration.
Direct observation is the only way our politicians can hope to be more in-touch with the American people. If Obama (and this goes for Congress too) plans to pass laws that are in line with what this country both wants and needs, then he must visit the border. Therefore, he must listen to Rep. Cuellar.
On the other hand, Rep. Gallego is partially right as well. He is right when he says that "we don't need photo ops; we need action." Obama cannot just go to the border for one day, have the press take some pictures with the immigrants and the border patrol, and then leave. He has to take a week or two week long tour of the region and listen to what the populations of those affected by this situation have to say. Our politicians can learn just as much from the people as they can from their advisers.
Obama cannot worry about being criticized if he visits the border. He will be criticized no matter what he decides to do. He is currently in Texas, and I hope he takes a few days to visit the border. If he does this it will show that he is pursuing all avenues of research, including direct observation, to make the most informed policy decisions possible centering around this issue.
For the record, Obama is not indifferent about the situation. He has made immigration reform a top priority of his second term agenda, only to see it disgracefully stalled by an indifferent House of Representatives. However, that does not mean that he cannot appear indifferent about it to the American people. It is not Obama's fault that immigration reform has not passed, and he has issued many executive orders to deal with illegal immigration, only to be sued by the reactionary House in response. Nevertheless, it does send a negative message when he is in the state of Texas to do some fundraising and not devoting some time and attention to the current situation in that state that has occupied the media for almost a week now.
Obama's advisers are saying that they want to avoid the "political theater," and say that it would make no difference if he visits the border or not. This is not true. Obama's presence on the border will make a difference as long as he spends it researching how people are affected by the problem. Direct observation is necessary in order to make effective policy decisions - it is not "political theater," it is trying to be in touch with the situation.
"Obama's Katrina," has been used by the political media to describe a number of situations since he first took office. However, if he does not visit the border, people will view it as a sign that he is indifferent about the situation, similar to how people reacted to Bush's response to Katrina. Therefore, failure to visit the border may mean that the "Obama's Katrina" label may actually stick to this part of his legacy.