Latino patience with President Obama has run out. Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation’s largest Latino advocacy group has rightly called Obama “deporter-in-chief” for overseeing the deportation of almost 2 million undocumented men, women and children, more than any other administration.
Everyone recalls candidate Obama promising Hispanics that if elected he would pass immigration reform in his first year in office. Given the economic crisis he found when he came into office in 2009, it was understood that the priority had rightly shifted, but in 2010 when he had the chance he did not. That year Obama, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid worked diligently on passing the Affordable Care Act, cheerfully referred to as Obamacare, instead of fulfilling the promise of immigration reform.
If Latino leaders complained they certainly did it quietly, so much so that no one heard it. Despite this, most Latino organizations and leadership forgave Obama. After all, most are strong supporters of the Democratic Party. Instead, they blamed Republicans for stalling immigration reform while letting Obama, Pelosi and Reid off the hook. It was an example of partisan politics at its worst. No more.
The NCLR is taking the bull by the horns and calling out Democrats for failing to help undocumented immigrants, most of whom are Hispanic. At the very least, they argue, Obama could halt the deportation of those who do not have criminal records until Congress debates and votes on the issue, something that Republicans say they will eventually do. Even though Obama has shown discretion in implementing legislation, such as many aspects of Obamacare, he says he cannot stop deportations because Congress has not acted. Nevertheless, he did act for Dreamers.
“We respectfully disagree with the president on his ability to stop unnecessary deportations. He can stop tearing families apart. He can stop throwing community and businesses into chaos,” said Murguia at the NCLR Capital Awards dinner last Tuesday in Washington D.C., with an audience of 800 legislative, corporate and civic leaders in attendance.
“He can stop turning a blind eye to the harm being done. He does have the power to stop this. Failure to act will be a shameful legacy for his presidency.”
This change in tone is significant coming from the influential Hispanic woman who served as deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton and director for constituency outreach for former Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign. However, the NCLR has a bipartisan board and the current chairman is Jorge Plasencia, a well-respected Republican business entrepreneur.
Many, however, including Republicans, have long complained that although NCLR touts itself as a non-partisan organization, it like other Latino groups, was so pro Obama that it was silent when Obama reneged on immigration reform. And after Latino activists lobbied, marched, prayed and fasted in favor of it the number of deportations rose.
By April, 2 million will have been deported, and Obama has requested $2.6 billion in his new budget to continue to do so. Even Democrats are appalled. Obama has detained and deported more immigrants than his two predecessors combined.
Comprehensive immigration reform advocate Rep. Luis Gutierrez, of Chicago, was quoted saying in Politico.com a few weeks ago that, “This administration has put inordinate pressure on people not to criticize the president on his immigration policy and not to talk about prosecutorial discretion.” But the criticism grows louder.
Since Obama enacted deferred deportations for childhood arrivals that protect undocumented youth from being deported, there has been a push for it to include adults who have not committed a crime. So far, Obama has not been persuaded, despite the polls that show a majority of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform.
Immigration-reform activists have been right in criticizing Republicans for dragging their feet on the issue, but they also hurt themselves by playing partisan politics and excusing Obama and Democrats for also not doing the right thing. It is refreshing to see a change. Murguia and the NCLR are right in criticizing this president on deportations. He can halt them temporarily. It would not even be an issue if Obama had kept his promise.