He spoke at the annual meeting of the National Council of La Raza, one of the nation’s largest Latino advocacy groups. The event, in Washington, was expected to draw 25,000 people.
It was during a speech to this same group in July 2008 that then-candidate Obama played the role of simpatico to the Latino community. He condemned immigration raids where “communities are terrorized,” declared that it was time for a president who “won’t walk away from something as important as comprehensive (immigration) reform,” promised that he would make it “a top priority” in the first year of his presidency, and insisted that the United States “cannot and should not deport 12 million people.”
Now, Obama has become what he once criticized. He walked away from immigration reform, continued the raids that terrorize immigrant communities and deported nearly 1 million people. And he has done this not to clear the way for comprehensive reform but because he sees a political benefit to being tough on illegal immigrants. In the United States, most of the undocumented population is from Mexico, and – as the head of an immigrant advocacy group told me bluntly – “no one ever lost an election by being hard on Mexicans.”
Lately, more Latinos are returning the favor and being hard on Obama. A recent Gallup Poll found Latino support for the president has fallen to 52 percent, and only about two-thirds of those who support him plan to vote for him again in 2012.
I’m surprised the figure is that high. Here are just a few things that the president and his administration have done that hurt, insulted or disappointed Latinos:
n It began with appointments. When Bill Richardson withdrew his nomination for commerce secretary, Obama missed the chance to replace him with another Hispanic – which would have given Latinos a historic third Cabinet post. He chose as his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who – while serving in Congress – butted heads with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and helped keep immigration reform off the Democrats’ agenda. And he installed Cuban-born Carlos Pascual as ambassador to Mexico despite the fact that the diplomat had scant experience with Latin America. Pascual was a disaster, lasting less than two years.
n In navigating his way through the health care debate, Obama quickly threw illegal immigrants overboard. In an August 2009 radio address, he reiterated that providing health care coverage to illegal immigrants was not part of his plan and “has never even been on the table.” Nor are illegal immigrants – most of whom are Latino – even allowed to purchase coverage under Obama’s plan.
n While claiming to be a full partner with Mexico in a drug war that has resulted in the deaths of more than 34,000 Mexicans, Obama hasn’t been a very good partner. In 2011, White House officials scuttled a proposal from the Justice Department that would have required gun-shop owners on the U.S. side of the border to report bulk sales of high-powered semiautomatic rifles – the preferred weapons of drug dealers. More recently, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – in a sting it called Operation Fast and Furious – let nearly 2,000 guns flow into Mexico where they fell into the hands of drug traffickers; three-fourths of those weapons are still unaccounted for.
n Finally, on immigration, in a gesture that many Latinos consider distasteful, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has boasted in speeches that the administration has deported more people than its predecessors. During the 2010 census count, the administration broke with tradition and refused to put a moratorium on raids that might make illegal immigrants less likely to step forward and be counted. U.S. Customs and Border Protection prevented 4-year-old U.S. citizen Emily Ruiz from re-entering the United States after a trip to Guatemala; instead, Ruiz was sent back to Guatemala. Obama signed an enforcement-only border security bill into law, undermining the push for comprehensive immigration reform. And pressured by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., to issue an executive order that would stop at least some deportations, Obama refused.
I didn’t expect any of this to make it into Obama’s remarks to the National Council of La Raza. But this is part of his record with regard to Latino constituents. And it’s nothing to be proud of.
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