Immigration Reform: The Echo That Can’t Be Ignored

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The loud words “We need relief now!” echoed through the ballroom and paused President Obama mid-sentence. Open heckling, shouts, and insults met the President when he attended the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Awards Gala for the first time during his second term on October 2nd. The very demographic President Obama had once been proclaimed a “champion” of were at their wits end. Due to what some call “political maneuvering,” the delay of promised executive action on immigration reform until after the Senate midterm elections has left the President’s approval rates sagging. More precisely, President Obama’s approval rating is now, according to Gallup Polls, at an all-time low among Hispanics and Latinos. The demographic that many had thought was the Democrat’s key to victory in past elections is now starting to grow disenchanted with a party that offered too many unfulfilled promises. These promises are now perceived as mere echoes: empty and heard far too many times before.

The promise of immigration reform has been heard for decades from a multitude of political figures in both parties. Immigration reform has been called a priority on the agenda by President Bush during his administration, by John McCain during his 2008 presidential candidacy, and even after the government shutdown by Speaker of the House John Boehner. In fact, in an Univision interview, Barrack Obama said, “I cannot guarantee that it’s 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.” This guarantee was made five years ago. Most recently, the reason that executive action on immigration reform has been postponed past the promised date is primarily believed to be due to the Senate midterm elections. Senators in close races such as Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina have made it clear that they do not want the President campaigning on their behalf, due to his low approval ratings. Kay Hagan went as far as to remain in Washington during President Obama’s visit to North Carolina in January of this year. Moreover, these Senators want President Obama to delay or drop any executive action on immigration altogether for fear of backlash from their conservative electorates.

With a Secret Service Agent in the foreground, President Barack Obama speaks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s 37th Annual Awards Gala. Source: Jacquelyn MartinWith a Secret Service Agent in the foreground, President Barack Obama speaks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s 37th Annual Awards Gala. Source: Jacquelyn Martin
With a Secret Service Agent in the foreground, President Barack Obama speaks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s 37th Annual Awards Gala. Source: Jacquelyn Martin

This alleged political strategizing in the face of daily deportations has enraged many powerful Latino political groups such as United We Dream and reduced Latino voter participation dramatically. Cristina Jimenez, director of UWD, has called the President’s “latest broken promise” another “slap in the face of the Latino and immigrant community”. Because of this delay, Jimenez added, many Latino people have had family deported who otherwise could have stayed if reform had been enacted sooner. According to Jimenez, cousins, parents, and even grandparents have been deported not only due to the broken immigration system, but also due to politicians who have failed to provide a solution. President Obama’s approval ratings dropped accordingly from 75% in 2012 to 52% in 2013 according to Gallup Polls, the most recent of which puts the “#DeporterinCheif,” as Jimenez calls the President, at a record low of 48%. This low approval rating is reflected in voter registration numbers as well. Mi Familia Vota, an organization dedicated to registering Latinos to vote, has had a lot of trouble in their work. One activist, Leo Murrieta, said “the president has not helped us” and that the Latino people who he has been working to register are clearly disappointed with President’s actions. President Obama, in Murrieta’s opinion, has lost the Latino and Hispanic people’s trust. “They wanted action” Murrieta added, “they wanted activity, and they wanted movement” and all they have gotten are broken promises.

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Source: redstate.com, 2014

Although some perceive the President’s delay on immigration reform as an attempt to look out for his own party, many within the Democratic Party are upset. Illinois Democratic Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez, a critic of Obama’s work on immigration, claimed that people would not have to “wait until after November if it was an issue affecting the gay and lesbian community…[if the issue was] about women’s reproductive rights… the minimum wage, [or]… a series of other issues, the Democratic Party would come together.”  Gutierrez is not the only member of the Democratic Party who has taken issue with Obama’s delay tactics. Texas Congresswoman Joaquin Castro of the Democratic Party stated that Americans are “suffering because [President Obama] didn’t act”. Some have defended President Obama and still call him a loyal advocate for the Hispanic and Latino communities. They explain this delay as a mere precautionary step in constructing lasting legislation. Tony Cárdenas, a Democratic Congressman from California, made it clear, however, that he disagreed about the delay being merely a precautionary step when he went on the record as stating “of course [the delay of executive action on immigration reform] is politics!” and added that all of this was to help avoid hurting Democrats in the midterms. However, it seems that Obama’s delay tactics have backfired— a strategy intended to protect Democrats at the polls is doing anything but.

This misfortune at the polls is being highlighted by Congressional Republican and Republican presidential hopefuls aiming to undermine a demographic the Democrats were thought to have locked up safely. The Republicans, however, are not criticizing the President on what he is not doing but rather on the principle of what he intends to do. Florida Senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Marco Rubio spoke out on the President’s delay of executive action on immigration reform until after the midterms; Rubio said the President delayed so that he can do as he wishes and “not be held responsible to the electorate”. On top of that and on a similar note, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has gone forth publicly calling President Obama’s actions both “cynical and political.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the immigration reform delay “politics at its worst” due to the President’s plan to “go around the law” by taking unilateral executive action “when it is too late for his party to be held accountable” in the Senate midterm elections. However, it seems the Democratic Party is being held accountable for not what they plan to do but mainly for what they have failed to do— they are paying a high price for their inaction.

The night that President Obama was greeted with distrust and feelings of betrayal from a group of people he had made so many promises to was a somber one. Yet, he had one more promise to give. The President looked into the eyes of the indignant crowd and reminded them that six years ago they had believed in him and that that night all he wanted was for them to “keep believing” in not only his abilities but also their own. Belief and patience, however, have run dry. In the silence of the crowd, the only thing that could be heard was an echo. The echo of the shout “What happened to the change we can believe in?” as a fed up “undocumented activist” was escorted out.