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Latinos Are Giving Back to Obama as Good as They Got

SAN DIEGO – In 2008, Barack Obama promised Hispanics that, if elected, he would make immigration reform a top priority.

He broke that promise and went to the other extreme by deporting more than 1.2 million illegal immigrants and breaking up hundreds of thousands of families.

Or did he? Despite dozens of newspaper articles and television reports indicating otherwise, apparently Obama never really broke his campaign promise to Hispanics.

Says who? Obama. He’s done making excuses; his new strategy is to deny that he has anything to excuse.

The president tried out this jaw-dropping argument recently during an interview with Univision Radio’s Eddie “Piolín” Sotelo, a Spanish-language radio personality whose show is a staple for many Latino immigrants.

Given that likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney seems to be going out of his way to be hateful toward Latinos by lurching to the right on immigration, Obama needn’t worry that large numbers of Latinos will defect from Democratic ranks and vote Republican. The concern is that Latinos are so disappointed in Obama’s own rightward swing on the issue that they won’t bother to vote.

A Univision/ABC News/Latino Decisions poll in January showed the president doing very well when matched against Romney or other Republican opponents, but it also reported that 53 percent of Latino voters nationwide are less enthusiastic about Obama than they were three years ago.

Obama’s plan to ensure that Latinos do turn out is to fool them into thinking that he’s been in their corner all along and that, in any case, a Republican president would be much worse.

The White House is also trying to convince Latinos that the issue their community really cares about is the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented students legal status if they went to college or joined the military. Romney has threatened to veto the bill; Obama claims to support it, even though he didn’t lift a finger to pressure Democrats in Congress to pass it when it came up for a vote in 2010.

During the radio interview, Obama was careful to bring up Romney’s opposition to the DREAM Act but got some hardball questions from the host. The first question went like this: “During your presidency, you have not delivered the immigration reform that we were hoping for. Thousands of families have been separated by deportation, leaving their children behind, alone in this country. Do you think that you still have the support of the Latino community?” Another went like this: “There is a perception out there that you broke your promise to achieve immigration reform; do you think you broke your promise?”

Obama responded: “Piolín, I would only have broken my promise if I hadn’t tried. But ultimately, I’m one man. You know, we live in a democracy. We don’t live in a monarchy. I’m not the king. I’m the president. And so, I can only implement those laws that are passed through Congress.”

We’ve heard all this before. Obama is obviously counting on the fact that Latinos were preoccupied last year when Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and grass-roots Latino organizations urged him to use a tool reserved for presidents – executive power – to stop the deportations of parents with U.S.-born children and students who would be eligible for legal status under the DREAM Act. Obama probably also hopes they missed the news that he later issued a slew of executive orders to deal with other issues he obviously cared more about, such as student loans and mortgage relief.

In the radio interview, Obama also said he hopes Latino voters stay “focused on those who are preventing comprehensive immigration reform from occurring.” He’s not guilty of that, he insisted. “Since I am 100 percent behind comprehensive immigration reform,” he said, “obviously I am not the roadblock to making this happen.”

Really? In any national debate, the president sets the moral tone. Here, Obama has shown political leaders that they can abuse Latinos, lie to them about what’s happening, and still avoid paying a price if they convince them the alternative is scarier.

It’s no longer enough to say that President Obama has no respect for Latinos and no fear of them. We’re way beyond that. By denying what he’s done, Obama has shown that he views Latino voters with contempt. By now, for anyone who is paying attention, the feeling should be mutual.

E-mail: ruben@rubennavarrette.com. Copyright 2011, The Washington Post Writers Group.

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