The nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court is historic and an inspiring American story. If she is confirmed, she will make history, becoming the first Hispanic and first Hispanic woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Her story, like the President’s story, is a compelling American story. Rising from a humble background in the Bronx to overcoming huge obstacles and achieving success, she has become an inspiration for young Latinas to pursue their American dream.
While some praised her momentous nomination others (including conservative pundits and opponents of reform) have responded with cynicism, arguing that Judge Sotomayor’s nomination might be an effort by President Obama to appease Latinos while putting immigration reform on hold. Congressional newspaper The Hill writes:
President Obama’s decision to nominate federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court may help him delay a thornier challenge: what to do with millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States… Hispanic lawmakers have been pressing Obama to deliver for a key demographic that helped put him in office, with immigration reform the top priority.
“There is just no way it’s going to happen this year. It’s just fantasy,” said Mark Krikorian, of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank that opposes legalization of illegal immigrants.
—Court pick could buy time on immigration, May 26,2009
The message from the opposition to immigration reform is clear: immigration reform is simply a political pay-off to a substantial new voting block that helped put the President and his party in office. Indeed, responding to the negative rhetoric of the immigration debate, Latino and immigrant voters turned out in record numbers to vote for change. They helped turn Florida, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Virginia from toss-up to solidly behind the President. The 2008 elections changed the political landscape.
But, contrary to Mr. Krikorian’s portrayal, immigration reform is not a narrow agenda item of concern only to immigrants or Latinos. In poll after poll, 60% of the American people favor immigration reform that gets undocumented immigrants into the system and on a path to citizenship.
So the President should not confuse nominating Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court with the need to do what the majority of Americans want him to do on immigration.
Gebe Martinez, political columnist at Politico cautions of the political risks of inaction on immigration reform:
But as Democrats celebrate Obama’s court move, which underscores Latinos’ political clout, the president is being warned not to assume that this nomination lessens the pressure to meet other demands from the Hispanic community, chiefly on immigration.
Latinos said Tuesday they still expect the president to keep his pledge to deliver a comprehensive immigration reform plan by the end of the year…
“I am not going to view one [development] in any way relieving the need or the attention on the other,” said Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) “We need to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform based on the merits of sound economic policy.”
—With Supreme Court pick, Obama strengthens ties with Latinos May 26, 2009
So even among Latinos, who welcomed the nomination of the first Hispanic woman to the Supreme Court, her selection will not change the urgency for an overhaul of our immigration system. The New York Times also picked up on the theme of the risk of assuming that the nomination will placate Latinos’ demand for reform:
And yet, a defensiveness could also be found. Many Hispanics seemed eager to warn Democrats that a single nomination — of a judge whom most Americans are still getting to know — might not be enough to win unending Hispanic loyalty come Election Day.
Some of those interviewed said Hispanic appointments mattered less than issues affecting them directly, like immigration and the economy.
– For Hispanics, Court Pick Sets Off Pride, and Some Concerns, May 26, 2009
The President should not take for granted the support of the immigrant vote, because it is not an unconditional support. As a recent poll from America’s Voice shows, immigration is a threshold issue for Hispanic voters and they expect President Obama to keep his campaign promise of moving forward with reform.
On Monday, June 8, the President takes the next step in making good on that promise by convening a high level summit of Senators and Congressional Representatives from both parties at the White House to discuss how to move forward on immigration reform. Combined with progress and momentum already building on Capitol Hill, this is a very good sign that immigration reform is being taken very seriously at the highest levels of government and that all of us – including opponents of reform like Mark Krikorian – had better get ready.