‘The worst of the worst,’ really?

Saturday, September 17th, 2011
By: Jonathan MontagJ.D.

President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security, according to press reports, are undergoing a review of hundreds of thousands of pending removal cases, people in immigration court facing possible deportation from the United States, to determine cases that are not worth pursuing. I have commented about this in a movie, here. One concern I express in the movie is that the heightened focus on removing aliens with criminal convictions in their past, particularly long-term permanent residents with decade-old convictions, is somehow deemed more fair than focusing on people who never have had legal status in the United States.

Take two hypothetical examples.

Alien A entered the United States as a permanent resident in 1996 at the age of 16. At the age of 18, he got arrested for possessing a little bit cocaine (in a state where convictions cannot be expunged). He is now 31 years old. He has since gone on to graduate college and is now a successful person – married, kids, house, cars, professional employment (substitute or add  your own determinants here, it is a hypothetical, after all)….

Alien B entered the United States without inspection in 1998,  at age 18, coming to America to work to send money to his family. He left a girlfriend and child in Mexico. He has worked in restaurants ever since he came. He knows very little English. He met a new woman in the United States and has two children with her. She is also undocumented. He also has a couple of other children with some other women. His restaurant earnings do not cover much child support, though he pays what he can. He was arrested for DUI once or twice. He has no contact with his children or ex-girlfriend in Mexico and sends no money there now that he has so many to support here. All of his U.S. born children are on Medicaid and get food stamps. All the children’s births were funded through Medicaid.  Not surprising for underprivileged children, some have asthma and other chronic diseases and some have learning problems that require special education programs in the public schools.

With several children who need his support and long residence, Alien B is prime for special treatment under the new prosecutorial discretion program. Alien A, a criminal alien, is subject to mandatory detention (INA § 236(c)), probably for six months or so, while he seeks forgiveness from an immigration judge. However, because his criminal conviction for drugs was less than seven years after he arrived in the United States, he is ineligible for relief from deportation and will end up being deported. (INA 240A(d)(1)(B)).

There is something quite skewed about such an outcome. Newspaper accounts state that the new policy is based on President’s Obama desire to deport criminal aliens – “the worst of the worst,” the articles attribute to him. I would be very surprised if a lot of people would agree that Alien B, who gets deported, is “worse” than Alien A who gets to stay.

This made me think that it is quite unlikely that President Obama, who in my mind is a very bright person and a very cautious person, would consider Alien B “worse” than Alien A and in the context of his prosecutorial discretion plan,would  call those being deported “the worst of the worst.” This would mean that he was calling all deportable aliens – the 10-12 million undocumented people and the unknown number of permanent residents with some criminal event in their past that renders them removable – “worst people” and that those that will get deported are the “worst” of those “worst.” I find it hard he would characterize this many people that way.

I have tried to find the context of when President Obama used the term “worst of the worst” about non-citizens. I have come up dry. Searching the term on the White House website comes up with nothing. Similarly, no source or a direct quote at any time and place comes up on Google.  Articles that attribute it, sometimes attribute it to him directly, to administration officials, to DHS policy reports, to spokesmen, and to candidate Obama, but none to his actually saying it in a speech or document anywhere. I have contacted authors and journalists who have attributed the quote to President Obama to ask for a source. I still am waiting for any to respond.

It seems quite possible that President Obama never said “worst of the worst” about undocumented aliens. Sergeant Joe Friday (as played by Jack Webb) never said, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Sherlock Holmes never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson,” and Rick Blaine never said, “Play it again, Sam.”  If President Obama did say it in the campaign, he may have said it in the context of concentrating on a subset of actual criminals – perhaps something like this – of all those convicted of crimes, we will concentrate on the worst of the worst. While still overly dramatic, hyperbolic, and sometimes untrue (like calling everyone arrested as terrorist suspects the worst and those at Guantanamo the worst of the worst), this is the kind of excess one sees in political campaigns where candidates talk a lot and cater to audiences that seek flamboyant rhetoric.

What I had hoped when I sat down to research this article was something like when John Stewart wanted to rebut Fox News’s Megyn Kelly’s assertion that its journalists or right-wing guests have never called a “liberal” a Nazi, he then showed a few minutes of clips of people doing just that.  I wanted to lambast the President for calling many, many millions of people “the worst” and the Alien A’s in society the “worst of the worst.” Except I cannot find him saying it – as President or even as candidate. Send me a link to the President actually saying “worst of the worst” about undocumented aliens so I can criticize him for calling Alien A worster than Alien B, not the least for bad grammar. Posted September 17, 2011.



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