When Mexican President Felipe Calderon addressed a joint session of Congress today and denounced the Arizona immigration law, even some Republicans cheered (the same cannot be said of Calderon’s call for Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban). See, Republicans – unless they’re so teabagged into submission like John McCain – want to maintain at least a patina of tolerance for Hispanics and immigrants, lest they face electoral suicide.

And the President also wants to show an outward sense of outrage against the Arizona law and intolerance against immigration in general. He said yesterday, appearing with Calderon, that the Arizona law “has the potential of being applied in a discriminatory fashion.” But a second-grader in Maryland pierced this bubble when she asked the first lady if Obama was going to take her mommy away. And Dan Froomkin noted that the little girl was asking the right question, to the right person:

The girl’s guilelessness and innocence, in contrast to the inchoate rage of the anti-immigrant movement — and even to the first lady’s suddenly hollow-sounding talking points — could well turn her into an icon as immigration makes its way to the front of the national agenda.

But surely she was wrong, in suggesting that President Obama is a particular danger to undocumented immigrants? Perhaps she was confusing him with the governor of Arizona or something?

Well, actually, it turns out the little girl was right. Obama’s Department of Homeland Security has been deporting more undocumented immigrants than President Bush’s ever did.

The number of deportations each year more than tripled during the Bush era — and has kept going up since then. During fiscal year 2009, the first full fiscal year of Obama’s presidency, 387,790 immigrants were deported — almost 100,000 more during the last full fiscal year of the Bush presidency.

To be sure, there are more convicted criminals among those deported, as per the law. And workplace raids of a high-profile nature haven’t been continued from the Bush era, although tighter enforcement of employers has. But as Frank Sharry of America’s Voice notes in the Froomkin story, “It’s remarkable that Barack Obama as a candidate spoke so movingly about how our enforcement priorities were wrong — and now he’s exceeded the Bush administration level.”

Now Democrats are doing one thing right – allowing for the adjustment, through an independent commission, of the level of immigrant workers allowed into the US. Our LEGAL immigration system is far more broken, arguably, than the presence of undocumented workers, and one feeds the other. If trade drives labor across the border, we have to allow the free trade of labor to follow those jobs. And we should have a workable system to raise the amounts of immigrant workers, whose presence in the country adds to economic growth, as needed.

Ultimately, there’s a lot of posing in this immigration debate, but as the question from the little girl showed, those who suffer the consequences of the policies are only interested in results.

David Dayen

David Dayen