The distrust in President Obama among Latino voters has roots in a broken promise made when Candidate Obama was first running in 2008. This distrust has been magnified by Mr. Obama's announcement that he would delay executive action on immigration until after the November midterm elections. The repercussions that will be felt by the President and Democrats was my main argument when I appeared this weekend on MSNBC's Alex Witt Show. Mr. Obama promised to make immigration reform a top priority within his first year as I write in Latina Magazine: Election 2012: President Obama’s Stance on Immigration. For a few months after he was first elected, Mr. Obama had a Democratic House and Senate. But he didn't stay true to his word, rightfully focusing his efforts on stabilizing the post-financial crisis economy and choosing to use his political capital to pass his signature landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA) legislation.
The President did make an element of immigration a top priority. On his watch, deportations of illegal immigrants hit record highs. Another priority is Deferred Action (DACA)--an executive action that temporarily legalizes DREAMers or young immigrants in school or the military who were brought to the country illegally as children. But let's be clear about one thing: DACA happened because DREAMer advocates broke from the mainstream Latino advocacy community and turned on this President as I witnessed and write about in “Anatomy of an Immigration Debate: Presidential Carne Asada at NCLR.” With chants of yes, YOU can, they challenged the President to grant some relief and reprieve to a mixed immigration status community, where families are being torn apart by the increased deportations. More grassroots than their urban, specifically Washington, D.C. leaders, the DREAMers gave a face and voice to frustrations in a community where Mr. Obama has been known as El Deportador long before Janet Murguía of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) christened him the Deporter-in-Chief.
Today, the anger towards this President is partially misguided. Indeed, he had no business in June swaggering to the podium in the Rose Garden, declaring impatience with an obstructionist Republican House and promising to go at it alone in the form of executive action by summer's end. But President Obama is the messenger. Democratic party operatives pressured him (and he caved)--warning that immigration executive action would hurt vulnerable Democrats locked in tight Senate races including Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, and North Carolina. Their main argument is that a move by the President would enrage conservative, white, older voters who are more reliable, especially during the midterms, than Latinos. Democrats could kiss the Senate goodbye as well as any progressive agenda on education, the economy, and immigration.
Can Hispanic and Asian American voters (for whom immigration matters a great deal) turn to Congressional Republicans? Let's examine their track record: a bipartisan Senate proposal squeaked by but died in their House. GOP leaders reacted to the executive action delay by accusing the President of engaging in "raw politics." Of course, they made no mention of their own party's politics in the form of obstruction, failure to reign in the xenophobic extreme wing, or refusal to negotiate, compromise, and govern.
Alex Witt asked me when the President would act, which along with when will comprehensive immigration reform happen, is a question I've been asked countless times. After covering immigration for the better part of a decade, after witnessing promises made only to be broken, my answer is always the same: I'll believe it when I see it.
But any person who believes that immigration is not a Latino issue but an American one with repercussions on our economy, global competitiveness, public safety, and national security should mark Wednesday, November 5, 2014. That's the day after the midterm election and the opportunity to hold the President, the Democratic and Republic party accountable. These powerful people hold the fate of millions in their hands. They will act--only if they have to.
Which leads us back to how I began this post--the Latino rank and file, as well as the leadership. If you take the political calculus of operatives, policy wonks, and pollsters, executive action and certainly comprehensive immigration reform will likely not happen until after the 2016 election, despite the growth of the Latino population and the electorate, as well as an extraordinary broad coalition that includes Evangelical Christians, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and labor unions. A legislative solution is more permanent than executive action, especially if the Republicans take the House.
This will require civic and political participation to have a say and help shape virtually every public policy issue that affects families. Unfortunately, the Latino advocacy community isn't singularly focused on voter registration and turnout similar to the massive mobilization during the Presidential Election of 2012. Now is also ripe for Hispanics to break open the immigration reform coalition even more--to convince, for example, senior white voters that immigration is as crucial to them as their Social Security checks (and according to some economists, Social Security's survival will be ensured by the Latino workforce).
There's a cynical saying in politics: you must pay to play. Even accounting for the numbers of undocumented, legal residents, and children under the voting age of 18, Latinos, if not money, have numbers on their side.
But in order to be a player, you must participate.
Click below to watch my appearance with fellow panelists Raúl Reyes and host Alex Witt on MSNBC which aired on September 7, 2014.
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xo ~ Viviana