Taken for granted
In 2008, Obama courted Hispanic voters by vowing to support “a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.” Put aside for a moment where you stand on the contentious issue of immigration law enforcement versus reform and consider the depth of this broken promise.
Because he said he’d support—not champion, demand or show real leadership on—a plan to make this actually happen, it simply hasn’t.
Aside from a few limp protestations about state anti-illegal immigrant laws, his actions have been limited to delivering reform platitudes at Hispanic Heritage Month events leading up to the 2010 midterms and expressing disappointment when the Dream Act failed in the Senate.
Obama has instead agitated Hispanics, not to mention everyone else who cares about efficient and humane immigration law enforcement, with unprecedented numbers of deportations and sometimes deadly detentions. Immigrant advocates are beside themselves that many of those were not priority cases but nonviolent people without criminal pasts.
The last three weeks have been equally vexing. First he met with a group of “senior administration officials and stakeholders on immigration” that lacked any representatives of groups with concerns about implementing reforms that will lead to more illegal immigration. At the end, the president said Congress had to act.
Next he met with a group of “influential Hispanics” including an actress who markets hard alcohol in perfume-like bottles sold to young women, a portly Chilean who can be found in millions of Hispanic homes every Saturday afternoon along with giggling, jiggling thong bikini-clad women on his long-running variety show, and a California-based shock jock who is as known for encouraging participation in the 2005 immigration marches as he is for his obscenity-laden Spanish-language Howard Stern-like morning show.
Need I spell out how offensive this is?
The celebrities were directed by Obama to go forth and tell others that he must obey the letter of the law and wait for Congress to act. This is hogwash. The Department of Homeland Security could start easing the pain of deportations by simply following its own rules. And just last week, immigration law experts outlined the president’s executive ability to interpret and implement existing laws to improve people’s lives, rather than just continue saying the laws are broken and can’t be fixed.
President Obama topped those showpieces off by meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. White House press secretary Jay Carney accurately predicted the outcome at that day’s press briefing thusly: “Well, it’s not different. It’s just—again, commitment and resolve.” Obama then figuratively patted the congressmen on the head and sent them on their way. Again.
But Obama’s empty promises are catching up to him. Rep. Luis Gutierrez has already stated he won’t back Obama’s re-election bid if no progress is made on reform. At May Day immigration rallies across the country, Hispanics were declaring that they’re not having it anymore—one marcher, Juan Guerrero, told the Los Angeles Daily News “(Obama’s) not doing anything. I voted for him last time, but I’m not voting for him again. Many Latinos won’t vote for him again.”
The coalition of Chicago-based grass-roots immigration reform organizations that was widely credited for stirring those massive nationwide immigration marches back in 2005 has started asking organizers to get voters to come out and cast ballots in 2012—but not for Obama.”
We don’t want to go backward in the gains the community has made in electoral politics participation. We want people to come out for the primary and vote for all their senators, congressmen and local elected officials but just skip the president” said Jorge Mujica, leader of the March 10 Movement, who told me that other like-minded organizations across the country are considering similar campaigns. “It’s a measure to pressure Obama to do something.”
Latino voters are smart, and they’re seeing that Obama’s lack of leadership on immigration probably isn’t going to change anytime soon. As it stands right now, whether they vote Republican or not at all, they have absolutely nothing to lose in 2012.
Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.