Beauty Shop: Immigration Waiver, 'The Obamas' Book

Panelists discuss the Obama administration's latest immigration proposal that's meant to cut through bureaucracy — but critics call it 'back-door amnesty.' They also weigh in on a controversial new book about the Obamas, and Beyonce and Jay Z's baby. Host Michel Martin hears from ladies of 'The Wise Latina Club', TheGrio.com and ESSENCE.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, just how did a foreign import once derided as handgun Tupperware and a terrorist's best friend become an American icon? Journalist Paul Barrett has written a new book that tells the fascinating story of just how the Glock became America's best-selling handgun. We will have that conversation in just a few minutes.

But first, it's time for a visit to the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh cut on what's happening in the news. Today, we want to talk about President Obama's latest proposal to address the immigration mess. We also want to talk about the kerfuffle around a new book about the Obamas and we want to talk about pop culture news causing buzz, the much talked about cover of Essence magazine featuring Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade. And, of course, Beyonce and Jay-Z's new little bundle of joy.

Here with us to talk about all this, Viviana Hurtado. She is the blogger-in-chief at the website, TheWiseLatinaClub. Joy-Ann Reid is the managing editor of TheGrio.com. That's an online news site. She's also a contributor to MSNBC. And Constance C.R. White is the editor-in-chief of Essence magazine.

Welcome, ladies. Thank you all so much.

VIVIANA HURTADO: Hi. It's great to be here.

JOY-ANN REID: Thank you, Michel.

CONSTANCE C.R. WHITE: Hi.

MARTIN: And Happy New Year.

HURTADO: Same to you.

REID: Happy New Year.

MARTIN: So, first, Viviana, we want to start off with these new proposals on the table to change current U.S. immigration policy. You know, it sounds like a small change, but apparently, for many people, it actually would make a huge difference.

Right now, when undocumented people want to apply for a waiver to let them reenter the U.S., they have to go to their home country first. This waiver can take months to get and, if it's denied, the person can be refused reentry for up to 10 years. So now, President Obama has suggested a policy that would allow certain undocumented immigrants to stay here while they apply for the waiver.

The intention, you know, is to try to keep so-called mixed families together, where one person has the legal right to be in this country or is a citizen and the partner or the spouse, child, parent, whatever does not. But there are people who are criticizing, saying this is back-door amnesty.

So you're the blogger-in-chief at the Wise Latina Club. This has obviously been a very big issue in the Latino community and I'm interested in your take on this.

HURTADO: It has been, Michel, and it has played really well in the Latino community. It's important to see this within the context of other actions that the administration has been forced to take because of the pressure coming from the Latino community.

Remember that, back in the fall, Department of Homeland Security also made a big announcement from the agency level, seeing how it is that executive authority was really being exerted, that there would be deportations really segmented by priorities, with that priority being put on criminals and on repeat offenders.

And so, really, what you've seen is this pressure that's been placed on the administration from a really interesting segment of the Latino community. These are younger Latinos, Latinos that are totally wired and are using social media to organize and people like The Dreamers, these students and military service members who are trying to get a pathway to citizenship and have been here for at least six years.

This is also really interesting, Michel, to see this within the context of yesterday's White House announcement that Cecilia Munoz was promoted to Director of Domestic Policy Council. And it's really interesting because she was an incredible soldier in the unpopularity of the Obama administration among the Latino communities. She really...

MARTIN: Meaning, she was the person who went out and represented the administration at a time when people were mad at them?

HURTADO: They were - the Latino community has been upset because of the broken promise that candidate Obama made to have comprehensive immigration reform the first year. That did not happen, but what did happen was increased deportations.

Cecilia Munoz took the fall and now she's been rewarded with this appointment.

MARTIN: Joy-Ann, I have to ask. You know, Viviana is saying that this regulatory proposal is the consequence of pressure by the Latino community. Doesn't the Obama administration argue that this is another of the steps that they are taking within their executive authority because of political gridlock?

REID: Well, yeah. I was just going to say that, while it is definitely good politics to do things that please the Hispanic community as the fastest growing voter group, this is also of a piece with the Obama administration trying to demonstrate to people, look, like the closing of Gitmo, comprehensive immigration reform has to go through Congress and the president can do a lot. There's the bully pulpit. But he can't force the Senate and particularly the Tea Party House to vote for legislation that they don't want to.

And comprehensive immigration reform really died in Congress, even during the Bush administration. So, because Congress hasn't been able to get it done, I think the president is taking a series of steps to say, well, look, I'm going to get around Congress and do things through executive authority. And this was another case where, essentially, the president is saying, we can't get a Dream Act? Fine. We just won't really go after people unless they have committed a crime. You don't want to do immigration reform? Fine. We will use executive authority to make it easier for people to stay together as families.

MARTIN: Constance, what's your take on this? I mean, how do you read this? As you know, you hear some people are critics, are saying that this is, you know, pandering to...

WHITE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...the Latino community in an election year, which is obviously going to be hard fought in just trying to consolidate his base. And other people are saying - administration supporters...

WHITE: It's bad.

MARTIN: ...are arguing that this - he's just doing what he can within the limits of his authority to address an issue that everybody knows is an issue.

WHITE: Absolutely. And that's my point. I mean, obviously, yes. It's an astute political move in an election year, but it's also a major issue for the country as a whole and particularly with the branding of America, we have many, many more mixed families and it's imperative. I think this is a step in the right direction and it's imperative that something be done about the immigration situation as the population of immigrants grows and so many more of the growing population are mixed families who have United States citizens as spouses or as parents or as kids.

This has to be addressed and it's vital to the economy and it's vital to our culture and our evolution as a society.

MARTIN: We're getting a fresh take on issues in the news in our Beauty Shop conversation with Constance C.R. White. She is the editor-in-chief of Essence magazine. Also with us, blogger-in-chief at The Wise Latina Club, Viviana Hurtado. And Joy-Ann Reid. She's with TheGrio. She's the managing editor of TheGrio.com and she's also a regular contributor to MSNBC.

So let's talk about Michelle Obama for a minute. There's a new book titled "The Obamas" by New York Times correspondent Jodi Kantor. Many people may remember that she wrote a piece, a very attention-getting piece for New York Times magazine about the Obamas and their relationship.

And there are some really eye-catching statements in it about Michelle Obama and her role in the White House. She talked to CBS's Gayle King today. The interview aired this morning. Let's just play a short clip of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS MORNING")

MICHELLE OBAMA: I don't have conversations with my husband's staff. I don't go to the meetings. You know, I guess it's more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here, but that's been an image that people have tried to paint of me since, you know, the day Barack announced, that I'm some angry black woman.

MARTIN: Well, Joy-Ann, what is she talking about here? And what do you make of her response to this?

REID: Well, I can tell you that, just from my sources, you know, the White House was not amused at all by this book and I think they've pushed back really hard against the author. I think that, in a way, just as a woman, I think Michelle kind of struck a chord probably with a lot of women, whether it's women of color who are considered angry black women or not, to say, listen. I'm not trying to run my husband. This was not a first lady speaking. This was a wife. This was a woman saying, I understand that my husband is president, not me. I'm not trying to step on his role. And I think she really resents the kind of implication that, you know, there's this stereotype of this sort of overbearing black woman that she's been kind of forced into when, all along, Michelle Obama really has had her own agenda. She has not stepped on policy. There is no Michelle Obamacare that she's trying to put out.

You know, she's really had her own agenda that's been separate from the president and I think just, as a woman, it was a strong response.

MARTIN: But the question I have is - does the book really say that, that she's sort of some shadow president? I mean, does it really say that? I mean, doesn't it say very clear that she's very clear with her staff, that she's not trying to be co-president?

REID: Yeah.

MARTIN: That her agenda - that she has no agenda that's more important than his? So why is the White House pushing back so hard? What exactly is it that they're worried about and upset about?

REID: Yeah. I think the clips that have come out of the book are a lot worse than the entire book and it really just makes it clear there were certain people within the administration that Michelle Obama didn't get along with. But you know what? You could say the same thing about most of Capitol Hill. A lot of the Democrats didn't get along with Rahm Emanuel, so she would have just been one of the crowd.

But I think that that the White House is really miffed about the idea that this person gained access and used it to sort of put out something that was salacious and the clips that came out, I think, are what really angered them.

MARTIN: But Constance, what's your take on this? Because Michelle Obama has been a favorite subject of the magazine and...

WHITE: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Do you sense that she's - first of all, I'm interested in why the magazine is as interested in her as you have been and do you think she's particularly a lightning rod because she's the first African-American first lady?

WHITE: We at Essence are very interested. We have a long, warm and supportive relationship with the first lady because our readers are interested. Our readers adore her. They see her as someone who has lived their lives, who understands their journey. They're exceedingly proud of her and she returns the love.

You know, she is a sister-friend. If we know one thing about Michelle Obama, she absolutely is that. And - yes. I do think that part of it has to do with her being the first black first lady. We have seen, historically, where first ladies are looked at very closely to see, are they walking the traditional '50s wife's line or are they "meddling," quote, unquote, in affairs of the state?

And I think there's a bit of that, but in addition to that, I think definitely Michelle Obama is being targeted because we've seen it from the beginning, the very beginning when she was in the race. We saw what happened. We saw how carefully, you know, she had to dial it back and they had to reset and craft her image and now - I was actually very surprised. I read the long excerpt in the New York Times this past Sunday of the book. I haven't read the whole book itself. But with all the buzz that was building about the book, I was very surprised at the negativity that was in the book.

MARTIN: Well, I don't know. It's interesting. As more people read the book, it'll be interesting. Maybe we could revisit this as more people actually read the whole book and see whether they really think that is as negative as that. To me, it sounded - I mean, having read it myself, it just sounds to me as though this is a portrait of a very modern person.

My only take on this is that it seems that Democratic women, whatever their race, seem to be subjected to this kind of scrutiny. You know, Rosalynn Carter was. Hillary Clinton certainly was.

WHITE: Yeah.

MARTIN: And it just - I know part of me wonders, was this because they're Democrats as opposed to because she's African-American? I don't know. Finally, if we can go to Viviana...

WHITE: Well, what about Nancy Regan, Michel? Nancy Regan was, actually...

MARTIN: Well, I don't know whether - okay. Well, Viviana, a quick take on this because we want to talk about the other stuff we want to talk about.

HURTADO: I was just going to say, building on the whole image concept - everyone talks about how fabulous and fresh and modern Michelle is and how, as modern women, we can relate to her, whether she's clad in Missoni from Italy or Missoni from Target.

But remember that she's also tasked with being the image crafter-in-chief and it's interesting that the most salacious clips that I read, as well, in the magazine this weekend talked about former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, tensions with former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the operative word is former. And Michelle Obama - she's still Mrs. and she's here to stay.

MARTIN: Well, if that is true. You know, first ladies don't get fired. That does not happen, at least not at this level.

So, anyway, let's talk about another - so two other celeb couples that we want to talk about - and, Constance, Essence put basketball star Dwyane Wade and actress Gabrielle Union on the cover of this month's issue of Essence. Now, you know...

WHITE: Yeah. Isn't it beautiful?

MARTIN: Well, you know, but I got to say, they're not - how can I put it? They're not...

WHITE: They're not Michelle Obama?

MARTIN: Well, but it's also that they're not married and I just sort of wonder, don't you worry about getting burned? Like, if they have a big fight and break up a month from now?

WHITE: Well, you know what? Our goal was really to illuminate the theme of the issue, which is finding love at any age. And we know that finding love at any age is something that is really important to our reader and we also know that this couple - they're a couple who our readers are very interested in.

You know, there's a lot of chatter about them, you know, on the Internet and, you know, just in the beauty shops, if you will. And we took that into consideration and I have to say that Gabrielle herself is someone who has really been someone who we've followed. She's someone who the magazine has followed over the years. This is no less than her sixth cover for Essence.

So this is just, for us, when you talk about, you know, being worried, for us, it's just another stop on Gabrielle's journey.

MARTIN: OK. Arm candy for Gabrielle. OK. Take that, Dwyane Wade.

WHITE: You could do worse.

MARTIN: Well, we can't go without mentioning the most talked about infant of the new year. I know it's new in the new year, but we can't let this go. Beyonce and Jay-Z have welcomed Blue Ivy into the world and Jay-Z released this song on his site about his new little girl who he calls his greatest creation. Let's just play a short clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GLORY")

JAY-Z: (Singing) Daddy's little girl, you don't yet know what swagger is, but you was made in Paris and Momma woke up the next day and shot her album package. Last time, the miscarriage was so tragic, we was afraid you'd disappear, but no, baby, you magic. There you have it.

MARTIN: You know what I think is so fascinating here is that this couple is so private and now they've let you hear the little girl's cries, apparently, and also announced the fact or acknowledged that she had a miscarriage, which is something that a lot of women have experienced. It's a very kind of emotional and traumatic...

REID: Traumatic.

MARTIN: It's very - and so, Joy-Ann, what's your take on this?

REID: Well, I mean, it's interesting. I mean, we at TheGrio - we focused on this story a lot. We did even a piece about sort of all the famous sort of songs that have made, homages to new infants. But this couple attracts more questions, more even conspiracy theorizing, I think, that almost any celebrity couple or even people who you could call Beyonce birthers, who don't necessarily believe that this is Beyonce's baby.

And then you have the whole situation. Did they lock down the...

WHITE: Hospital lockdown.

REID: Right. Did they lock down the hospital? Did they have, you know, bulletproof doors ahead of her birthing room?

MARTIN: Did they tape over the security cameras?

REID: Did they tape the cameras? Did people have to turn in their cellphones? It's such an amazing story.

MARTIN: Why are people so fascinated?

REID: You know what? I think because, really, they are the two biggest stars, each in hip-hop and R&B. Rihanna excepted, probably, in the R&B category. But we've just watched them grow up and we've seen Beyonce since she was, like, 14 or 15 in Destiny's Child and we've seen her turn into this, you know, global superstar. And the same with Jay-Z, who's probably the most respected, at this point, figure in hip-hop because, you know, you've had a lot of younger artists that maybe don't have the longevity and the staying power that he's had.

So they just are a huge celebrity couple and also obviously fabulously wealthy, as well. I don't see how the child could have a normal life, though.

MARTIN: I don't know. Constance, you have a minute here to tell me. What would you do to get this baby on the cover of your magazine?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WHITE: Well...

MARTIN: What would you be prepared to do?

WHITE: Call Jay-Z and Beyonce.

MARTIN: Oh.

WHITE: It's definitely a power merger and, you know, we are very excited for them. It's another beautiful black family and we definitely want to showcase them in Essence and help them celebrate and bring the story to our readers, for sure.

But - yeah. The power merger. They do just attract so much attention.

MARTIN: Well, if you get that scoop, we expect you to come to us next and...

WHITE: Yes.

MARTIN: ...tell us just how cute that baby is.

WHITE: And mama Knowles, as well.

MARTIN: Just how cute that baby is. OK.

WHITE: Can't leave out the grandma.

MARTIN: That's right. Constance C.R. White is the editor-in-chief of Essence magazine. She was with us from our bureau in New York. Joy-Ann Reid is the managing editor of TheGrio.com and a contributor to MSNBC. She was also in New York. Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief for The Wise Latina Club. She was nice enough to join me here in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Ladies, thank you.

HURTADO: Thank you, Michel.

WHITE: Thank you, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Just ahead, the Glock. It's name-checked by rappers, trusted by police officers and targeted by people who want tougher gun laws. But just how did this ugly plastic import become an American icon?

PAUL BARRETT: Take a bad shooter and a bad shooter becomes mediocre. An OK shooter becomes very well skilled. There really was very little not to like about the Glock.

MARTIN: We'll find out how the Glock went from humble beginnings to America's most popular firearm. That conversation is just ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: That witty banter between black friends and white friends has been a staple of sitcoms and buddy movies for years, but real conversations across the racial divide aren't always much fun.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You can say N-word, but I can't? How is that OK?

MARTIN: We'll hear from a comedian behind the hit viral video about stuff white girls say to black girls. That's next time on TELL ME MORE.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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