Obama's Latino Problem
Say we Latinos decided to tell President Barack Obama that we are not going to take his cheap rhetoric anymore. Say we told him we are fed up with his empty promises to fix our broken immigration system while his administration breaks deportation records. Say that when he asks for our votes next year, we decided to tell him, "No se puede!"
The anger and sense of betrayal many Latinos feel toward the president certainly would justify a huge voter backlash in 2012. Even his fellow Chicago Democrat Rep. Luis Gutierrez recently said he could not guarantee his support for Obama's re-election bid.
But what are we going to do, vote for a Republican whose immigration policies likely would be much more Draconian than Obama's?
Given the current pool of potential Republican presidential candidates and their likely race to the extreme right during the GOP primaries, it may become very clear that for Latinos, Obama is simply the lesser of two evils. Instead of voting for Obama, we may have no choice but to vote against his opponent.
For the past few months, while it became evident that immigration reform doesn't have a chance in Congress this year, many immigrant rights activists have been asking Obama to relax his administration's crackdown on undocumented immigrants. If he believes they deserve compassion and some sort of amnesty, why doesn't he begin using his executive powers to ease their pain?
The increased deportations originally were sold to Latinos as a necessary evil. Obama administration officials let it be known that their raids, border reinforcements and deportations were meant to persuade Republicans, who insisted on border security first, to agree on a comprehensive immigration reform plan.
But because that strategy clearly didn't work — and many sacrificial lambs were deported, even with the consent of some pro-immigrant activists — some now are asking why Obama continues running immigration policies that appear to be more conservative than even those of his Republican predecessors.
The candidate who got elected because Latino voters believed his "Sí, se puede" rhetoric became the president who scored record numbers of deportations, sending home more than 800,000 immigrants since he has been in office.
It has become obvious that no amount of immigration enforcement would be enough to satisfy the thirst for deportations that drives the conservative (and most influential) wing of the Republican Party. Regardless of how many fences Obama tries to build or how many immigrant families he separates, conservative extremists will keep moving the goal post to the right, until they deport even Obama!
Immigrant rights advocates have suggested various ways in which Obama could use his executive powers to help the people he claims he wants to help. Some say Obama could order Homeland Security officials to stick to arresting the criminal immigrants they claim to seek, instead of the many other undocumented immigrants they pick up as "collateral damage" along the way. Others say the president could grant temporary protective status to immigrants from various countries afflicted by rampant violence or natural disasters.
Even Democratic Party leaders in Congress have sent Obama a letter asking him to defer the deportation of undocumented immigrant students who would be legalized under the DREAM Act, a bill Obama supports but which failed to clear its way through Congress last year.
Yet Obama, obviously afraid of making any move that would appear to circumvent Congress, keeps rejecting the use of his executive powers to provide some sort of relief. And the excuses he and his people are using are becoming a bit lame!
Administration officials reportedly claim that because they still are looking at the bigger picture of passing comprehensive immigration reform, using executive powers to help undocumented immigrants could be counterproductive, because it could alienate the very few Republicans who might vote for comprehensive immigration reform.
In other words, the president's executive powers are being held hostage by a handful of Republicans who could come around someday. Isn't that special?
In fact, what the president really fears are the tantrums of conservative extremists who would charge him with refusing to enforce U.S. laws. Just reacting to the Democrats' letter, one Republican already threw a fit on the Senate floor.
"I'm just appalled that members of this body think an executive order to grant amnesty behind our backs is not an assault on the democratic process," charged Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
This is the rhetoric Obama is trying to avoid. But at what expense? Does he realize it could cost him the presidency?
If it's true that as many as 12 million Latinos could be voting in the 2012 presidential election, if we become the swing voters in many of the swing states, Obama is going to need an enthusiastic Latino voter turnout in order to win re-election.
And he is not going to get it by acting like a coward on immigration!
All he does is hold an occasional White House meeting at which he panders to immigrant rights advocates and explains that his hands are tied and there are no shortcuts he can take. They go in looking for a leader, and they come out not having found one.
Who knows? Perhaps Obama will get lucky and his GOP opponent will turn out to be a tea party demagogue like Sharron Angle, the former U.S. Senate candidate who offended Nevada Latinos so egregiously that they went out and re-elected Sen. Harry Reid, a Democrat who also had failed to deliver on his promises to reform immigration.
Or perhaps Obama will get very unlucky and end up with a Republican opponent who picks a Latino running mate. Of course, that would be a terribly opportunistic move by the Republicans, especially if they nominate a Latino Uncle Tom who is an anti-immigrant zealot and could draw Latino votes only because of his Hispanic surname.
Unless Obama changes his tune when he speaks to Latinos about immigration, this could be the Republicans' ultimate weapon to neutralize the Latino vote. And that is why Obama needs to come out fighting.
The Obama who fought for health care reform and the Obama who is now so strongly taking on Republicans over the federal deficit, that's the Obama who needs to show up and be a leader on immigration!
If he doesn't act, if he doesn't do something dramatic to change his image as the champion of deportations, many Latino voters will not vote for a Draconian Republican, but they'll stay home on Election Day, and Obama will be a one-term president.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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