Jose Antonio Vargas (right) in the film Documented
Courtesy of Apo Anak Productions

When history looks back on President Barack Obama’s most significant accomplishments, championing the Affordable Care Act and signing it into law will be at the top of that list. His efforts to resolve America’s immigration crisis should belong on that list, too. But because of liberal overreach and political correctness, the president’s record on immigration is continually maligned and misrepresented in a way that isn’t useful in getting worthwhile policy enacted.

Obama has repeatedly cited comprehensive immigration reform as one of his priorities, but because Congress doesn’t want to work with him, it hasn’t become a reality since he’s been in office. He has still managed, though, to use the power of his office to make tremendous strides for immigrants. Most notably, when the DREAM Act—aimed at creating a path to citizenship for those brought to this country illegally as children—stalled in Congress, the president used executive action, directing the Department of Homeland Security to stop deporting those children-turned-adults, known as “Dreamers,” who have lived as upstanding citizens and instructing that they be issued work permits

He later further pushed for a directive prohibiting the deportation of those who came here illegally but are the primary caretakers for small children. The exception to both of these exemptions: undocumented immigrants who violate criminal law.

Yet for some bizarre reason, immigration activists continue to operate under the illusion that by ridding our country of those who commit additional crimes, the president is somehow committing a crime against democracy. Many of these activists have labeled President Obama “the deportation president” while repeating the mantra that “Obama has deported more people than any other president.” Which is true, with 410,000 immigrants deported in 2012, compared with 116,000 in 2001.

But for me the question isn’t “Why is Obama deporting criminals?”—petty or otherwise—but, rather, “Why hasn’t he deported more of them?” Two new films about immigration highlight this particular chapter in the immigration debate perfectly. One, titled Deported, will air as part of Anthony Mackie’s AfroPop series on select television stations this Sunday. Another, called Documented, recently opened in theaters.

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Deported follows Haitian immigrants who lived legally in America for much of their lives but who were then convicted of various crimes, ranging from burglary to assault, and deported back to Haiti after release from American prisons. Early on, the film states, “Since 1996, under a new Antiterrorism Act, every immigrant living in the United States with a criminal record is eligible for deportation. The crimes range from driving while intoxicated to domestic violence to homicide. After serving their sentence, these individuals are sent back to their homeland.”

And I ask, what person in his or her right mind has a problem with this? For the record, I’d fully expect that if I were to commit a crime while living in Australia, they’d probably be glad to see me get sent back to the U.S.

Documented tells the story of Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist who discovered as a teenager that his family had brought him to America illegally as a child. In his time in this country, Vargas—who is a friend—has lived an exemplary life, including winning a Pulitzer Prize before age 30.

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He challenges every negative stereotype about immigrants, but perhaps most important, he has made a point to live his life in a way that demonstrates respect for and gratitude toward the country that gave him so much opportunity and continues to do so even though his immigration status has become public. But although he’s lived his life as the epitome of the American dream, theoretically, Vargas faces the possibility of deportation. He is not protected by the president’s directive to DHS to protect Dreamers because beneficiaries must be younger than 30. He just missed the age cutoff when it went into effect, something that one can’t help but consider a tragedy. 

So how is he handling all of this? Well, he’s using his time in this country to educate others about the importance of comprehensive immigration reform, particularly those who may not think they support it but who also realize that our country is better off with people like Vargas in it than it is without people like him.

What he’s not doing is committing crimes. And it seems to me that anyone who cares about one day seeing comprehensive immigration reform become a reality, but who defends the right of those who do commit crimes to stay in this country, is doing nothing but hurting the cause. Because every time you denounce the deportation of those who carelessly endangered lives by driving drunk, committed domestic violence or stole another person’s property, you make it that much tougher for the president to build consensus for solutions that keep law-abiding immigrants in America.

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One of the most harrowing scenes in Deported is when one of the deportees tells a group of Haitian children his story, and his parting words to them are, “Maybe one day you will travel. So wherever you go, remember to behave like a good citizen.” 

If only he and others sharing a similar plight had followed his advice.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter