In Latino circles, two Obama 2008 quotes have gotten a great deal of play. The first was from a May 28, 2008, interview with famed Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, the Latino Walter Cronkite -- easily the most respected Spanish-language media figure in the world:
I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days. But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I'm promoting. And I want to move that forward as quickly as possible.
The second was this one, in July 2008 at the Washington convention of the League of United Latin American Citizens:
For eight long years, we have had a president who has made all kinds of promises to Latinos on the campaign trail, but failed to live up to them in the White House. We need a president who isn’t going to walk away from something as important as comprehensive [immigration] reform when it becomes politically unpopular. That’s the commitment I’m making to you ... and I will make it a top priority in my first year as President.”
Needless to say, those campaign promises couldn't have been any clearer. There was zero ambiguity or hedging.
And needless to say, those campaign promises were blatantly broken as Obama focused on other things, like the botched health care debate, cap and trade, and endless negotiations with Republicans who were engaged in a blatant and malicious campaign to stymie and obstruct the Democratic agenda.
That's all ancient history. We'd like to think Democrats learned their lesson, but ... oh well. But now it's 2011, and Obama faces a reelection campaign. And he won't win states like Nevada, North Carolina, Colorado and New Mexico, nor compete in places like Arizona and myriad others, if he can't lock in solid and enthusiastic Latino support.
So yes, I'm cynical about this:
President Obama is reviving the issue of immigration reform in the face of mounting political pressure as he readies his bid for reelection.
Obama is holding a meeting at the White House on Tuesday with current and former elected officials along with business and faith groups to discuss the "importance of fixing our nation's broken immigration system for our 21st-century economic and national security needs," according to his schedule.
Ahead of that meeting, the president insisted the fight for major immigration reform legislation is not yet over despite the fact Republicans, who are largely wary of current comprehensive proposals, made large gains in the 2010 midterm elections.
"The question is going to be, are we going to be able to find some Republicans who can partner with me and others to get this done once and for all, instead of using it as a political football?" he told Dallas-based WFAA-TV during one of four local television interviews on Monday.
There's no way Republicans go along with this now. Why give Obama credit with a key base demographic ahead of important elections? And why would any Republican risk a teabagger primary by doing the right thing?
But of course, that was pretty much always the case the last two years. Immigration reform was DOA so long as Republicans were hell-bent on destroying the Obama presidency. Unfortunately, Democrats were too afraid to fight and lose the legislative battle, and it cost them in the political battle.
Fact is, Democrats don't have to win the legislative battle to win the political one -- as long as Latinos see a genuine effort on their behalf, they will know which party is working to improve their lot in life, and which party is fighting against it. Just ask Harry Reid.
So yes, fight for comprehensive immigration reform, and force Republicans to stand up in opposition to the interests of Latino families.
But if Obama wants to truly cut through the cynicism felt by many in the Latino community (myself included), then there's plenty he could do to unilaterally show commitment to fairer immigration laws.
For one, his administration could stop deporting more people than Bush ever did, and then brag about it to Republicans.
In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) grilled DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano about her Department’s deportation practices. Sen. Grassley was particularly agitated about the “threat” of Napolitano using prosecutorial discretion and allowing some individuals with compelling cases to delay their deportations.
Instead of calling out Sen. Grassley for his role in blocking immigration reform, Secretary Napolitano tried to appease him. She touted her Department’s record number of deportations and noted that the Obama Administration granted deferred action in less than 900 cases last year – fewer than the Bush Administration.
Furthermore, Obama could unilaterally grant relief to DREAMers -- the kids of undocumented immigrants who cannot go to college or serve their nation in uniform because of the "sins" of their parents.
It is true that the president can't create a new immigration status without Congressional authorization. However, the executive branch could provide relief to certain groups within the universe of 11 million undocumented people, citing the justification for doing so-for example, for national security, economic, or humanitarian reasons.
"Deferred action" includes a stay of deportation and (potentially) the opportunity for a work pemit.
And then, perhaps Obama can get ICE to stop its abuses:
Last May, Michigan DREAMer Ivan Nikolov and his mother were detained in a Michigan detention facility, where Ivan was forced to watch while his crying mother was strip-searched.
Only a small, shoulder-length screen separated the two. When Ivan’s mother expressed her objections to being strip-searched in front of her son, the officer responded, “You’re lucky we don’t just shoot you in the head.” [...]
Other stories from the same jurisdiction tell of warrantless raids resulting in a man being pushed through a wall, a six-month pregnant woman being refused medical care, children being stalked by ICE agents at elementary schools, and even US Citizens being shackled when ICE agents refused to accept their identification.
Obama made some campaign promises, then never bothered to fight for them until now, in the early stages of the 2012 election. The time for promises is over. If Obama wants to truly deliver for the Latino community, there's plenty of actions he can take without worrying about Republicans or xenophobic Democrats.