For the last half decade, the simple formulation of immigration advocates pushing for reform had been simple: Democrats Good. Republicans Bad.
But as efforts of reform continue to stall, advocates are turning up the heat, and hoping that Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House feel the burn as well.
“Yes, Republicans have a tarnished brand that could haunt them for a generation, but Democrats have to fight the perception that they are all promise and no deliverance,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-reform group and someone who has met with the president and senior White House officials to discuss a path forward.
Focus groups with Latino voters, he said, range “between deeply disappointed and extremely upset. ‘He promised. He promised. He promised.’ That’s what you hear. He promised immigration reform would be a priority. He promised he understood the pain of families broken apart by deportations.”
The stakes were raised on Wednesday when Democrats tried to bring a discharge petition to the House floor, a little-used maneuver that would circumvent the House Republican leaders who have hamstrung reform measures by getting a majority of members to sign on. But even though the Democratic caucus supports the maneuver, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi still has yet to find a Republican to sign on, even though many House Republicans in principle support reform.
But no matter. Advocates point to a 2008 campaign promise to get immigration reform done in Obama’s first year in office, and his comments in the 2012 race in which he said he was “confident” that a bill would be finalized in 2013. Instead, however, there has been a record number of deportations—nearly as many as every other president combined, advocates say—and until recently has resisted using executive authority without congressional approval. Earlier this month, President Obama ordered the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a review of the nation’s deportation policy.
Advocates, though, don’t just want more from the White House—they want Democrats to figure out a way around the Republican logjam, especially after Latino and Asian voters help rescue the Democrats in the 2012 election season.
Now that a discharge petition is before the Congress, Susan Chinn, the campaign director for the pro-reform Campaign for Citizenship said that there is “No more hiding behind Boehner’s partisan skirt.”
“With a discharge petition, the blame is no longer just on the House Republican leadership,” Chinn added. “The blame and responsibility to end this crisis that is ripping apart 1,100 families each day falls on individual House members who can sign the petition and move legislation to the floor. We know the votes exist in the House to pass immigration reform. We expect everyone who’s been saying they support a path to citizenship to step up and sign the petition.”
Asked if this included Democrats and President Obama, Dawn Le, a deputy campaign director at the organization, said that it did.
“No one is getting a pass. There has been a growing clamor for the president himself to act. He has the power to do something and he hasn’t. He can stop the deportations and protect those who would be protected under current legislation.”
And if two more years pass without reform, Democrats may not be able to count a surge of Latino and Asian support again.
“We are going to support those that support our communities and damn those that do not.”
The White House has continued to say that reform must come from Capitol Hill.
“The only permanent solution to fixing the broken immigration system is through meaningful comprehensive legislation,” said White House spokesman Bobby Whithorne. “Unfortunately, the only thing standing in the way is the unwillingness of House Republicans to take action. Immigration reform has broad, bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans, business and labor, as well as faith and law enforcement leaders. We will continue to keep the pressure on Congressional Republicans to take action as soon as possible.”
Pressure, however, is continuing to build. In a half-dozen cities around the country today, advocates affiliated with the group Presente.org held rallies calling on President Obama to stop all deportations. The group is promising a series of hunger strikes in front of the White House next month, and has launched a new campaign, “The Obama Administration Legacy” to tell voters that Obama risks leaving office with a gaping hole in his record.
“We are here today with the hope that we can change the trajectory right now, because in all seriousness President Obama and the Democratic Party have a Latino problem,” said Monica Novoa, an organizer with the effort at a small rally in downtown Manhattan. “This issue affects our people tremendously.”
Gary Segura, the co-founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions, said that it was unlikely Latinos would abandon the Democratic Party. Rather, he said, advocacy groups are trying to find their footing after getting stymied for five years in their efforts. The president’s recent review of deportations, is, he says, a direct result of a decision to employ more hardball tactics.
“I think what we have seen is that lesson of this administration is that working with the president gets you nothing. Confronting the president gets you what you want.”
It is a lesson that Presente seems to have internalized. Not only are they calling on an end to all deportations—a policy not in the realm of legal possibility—but they say that the president should meet with families that have been broken up by his policies.
“Obama’s contribution to the Democratic Party for Latinos is going to be a big question mark,” said Roberto Lovato, the co-founder of the group. “Latinos aren’t going to vote for Republicans. They are already dead on arrival. But will Democrats in the future be able to mobilize the Latino vote when they have Obama’s legacy weighing them down?”
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