Democrats Can’t Keep Ignoring Immigrants and Their Allies

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Commentary Law and Policy

Democrats Can’t Keep Ignoring Immigrants and Their Allies

Joe Sudbay

Obama's failure to take executive action on immigration reform by the end of the summer is just the latest in a string of his broken promises on this issue.

Read more of our coverage about the Obama administration and immigration reform here.

Last weekend, President Obama broke another promise to immigrants, their families, and their allies by delaying executive action on immigration reform until after November’s election—despite saying he would make a move by the end of the summer.

This was just the latest in Obama’s litany of unfulfilled pledges, starting with his vow in July 2008 to take up comprehensive immigration reform in his first year. He didn’t. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, though, given that Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had called immigration the “third rail of American politics” in December 2007.

Instead, the years that followed saw the administration’s deportation numbers climbing into record territory, surpassing two million by the spring of 2014. On more than one occasion, senior White House officials have gone so far as to boast about their tough stand on the issue.

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As a consequence, the idea of Obama as “Deporter-in-Chief” has taken hold among activists. Janet Murguia, president of the Latino advocacy group National Council of La Raza, even used that term in March: an indicator that something is drastically wrong.

The tough enforcement strategy was going to bring GOPers to the table. That worked, huh?

It was the president who said on June 30 that he would take action on this issue by summer’s end. It was his agreement. Let’s be clear: Record-breaking deportations should not have been a hallmark of the Obama administration.

There is a lot of anger about this latest failed commitment, particularly from DREAMers, who are taking the lead in demanding real results. Those from the left who attempt to dismiss or downplay these fearless young activists’ efforts and outrage are doing themselves and their party a disservice. There is already pushback from many who want us to know Republicans are worse. No kidding. But most of us who work on these issues expect to be screwed over by the right. It’s worse when your friends do it.

Also, I’ve noticed over the years that a curious thing happens in D.C. when a politician breaks promises to a sometimes-valued constituency. Insiders in Washington don’t view the promise-breaker as the problem; instead, they view the constituents themselves as naïve or unsophisticated. Or, they simply ignore their concerns outright.

The phenomenon is apparently consistent this time around too. In a September 5 article in the Guardianthree anonymous Democratic officials laid bare the cravenness with which their party takes Latino voters for granted, as they explained to reporters why Obama shouldn’t keep his word:

Another Democratic operative, closely involved in one of the Senate’s most competitive races, told the Guardian the White House should revert to its initial strategy of seeking a long-term, permanent solution to the immigration crisis through bipartisan compromise and drop the executive order idea.

Asked if the campaign had tested how voters in the state would react to a presidential decree on immigration, the operative replied: “I don’t need polling on this. I know it would be bad.”

I myself, though, have seen statistics on how such inaction will influence Latino voters. And they’re not good. According to the polling firm Latino Decisions:

57 percent of Latinos said failure to act would leave them less enthusiastic about voting Democrat, and likewise 54 percent said they would be less excited about turnout to vote at all.

It’s also worth remembering that a whopping 75 percent of Latino voters chose Obama in 2012. The impact of the latest delay will not go unforgotten at future ballot boxes, no matter how much Democrats may wish for that to be the case.

Other Democrats, such as the unnamed person quoted in this New York Times article, fear that immigration will prove to be as toxic for the left as they believe gun control was in 1994. This is particularly absurd. I worked on gun control back then. We had nothing like the growing Latino and Asian demographics to support our efforts.

If anything, a more parallel political issue would be the fight for LGBT equality throughout the country. For me, equality isn’t a calculation. It’s my life.

I don’t think a lot of folks understand how personal it is. Until your life is voted on and the subject of ugly debate, you don’t really have standing to challenge the validity of an issue. That’s not how it should work. You can’t have us when you want us. And that is what I’ve seen from my consulting work on immigration, too. As Dr. Gary Segura, co-founder of Latino Decisions, often says, “demography is unrelenting.”

In July, Latino Decisions also noted, “Latino voters are tied to the undocumented community, this issue is personal. This is THE essential reason immigration is a gateway issue for Latino voters.”

Obama and other members of the Democratic establishment clearly view Latinos, who care deeply about immigration, as expendable in 2014. But watch how many of them shift gears after November’s election because they need the Latino vote to win two years from now.

For immigration advocates and activists, this isn’t some kind of political game. They are fighting for their families. Political actions have consequences, and this one will impact real people. If you think otherwise, ask Ohio resident Pedro, now facing imminent deportation, his wife Seleste, and their kids—or one of the tens of thousands of others affected by the president’s refusal to act.