For the past several months, almost every time Univision’s Al Punto anchor Jorge Ramos appears on air, he reminds his viewers of “la promesa de Obama,” or, “Obama’s promise.” What Ramos is referring to is the promise the candidate Barack Obama made to Latino voters back in 2008 that the nation would have a comprehensive immigration reform bill that he would back within his first year in office. The truth is, thus far, Obama over-promised and under-delivered. Rather than fixing the broken immigration system and overseeing the legalization of 11.5 million undocumented immigrants, the Obama administration has been responsible for a record-setting number of deportations, more 287(g) partnerships, and beefed up border enforcement. The Latino community is rightfully furious that their families continue to be ripped apart and they are understandably frustrated with Obama’s failure to provide the change and relief he once promised. However, Ramos has turned “la promesa de Obama” into a rallying cry that distracts attention from the real villians of this year’s immigration debate.
While “la promesa de Obama” certainly speaks to many of the mistakes the President has made on immigration — an initial lack of presidential leadership during the first year of his presidency coupled with stepped-up enforcement measures — it also fails to capture the political limitations in which the Obama administration has been working. In his January 2010 piece entitled, “La promesa de Obama,” Ramos mentions Republicans once. Politico reports that, overall, Spanish-language media “say they never expected much from the GOP.” Maybe they should expect more.
Perhaps the confusion begins with a fundamental misunderstanding of the President’s responsibilities. When Ramos was asked by Politico what he would do if he were President, Ramos responded “immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for 11 million people” in the form of an executive decision. However, though a President can take a strong leadership role in crafting and pushing legislation, it’s ultimately Congress’ job to introduce and pass any bill — and, regardless of what you “expect” from them, that involves Republican cooperation. Obama could pursue administrative relief by legalizing 11.5 undocumented immigrants on his own, however, besides being a political disaster, it’s an interim solution that could be easily undone and isn’t really what Obama promised in the first place.
Obama always made clear that immigration reform stood in a line with health care reform, energy legislation, and financial regulatory changes. Republicans, meanwhile, have pursued a strategy of dragging out almost every single piece of legislation that Democrats put before them. And the harder the White House has pushed its legislative agenda, the more united the right has pushed back. To add insult to injury, following the passage of health care reform, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — the only Republican planning on co-sponsoring an immigration bill — pulled out, saying the “well has been poisoned.” Since then, Republicans in Congress have shifted their focus to things like border security and overturning the 14th amendment to deny the American-born children of undocumented immigrants citizenship. Meanwhile, the country didn’t get financial regulatory reform until July and it’s still waiting on climate change legislation in addition to immigration reform. In a nutshell, Obama could’ve kept his promise and helped Democrats draft and introduce immigration reform in Congress — though it wouldn’t have gone very far. In the absence of Republican support, it basically would’ve boiled down to cheap political symbolism that wouldn’t have brought Latinos much closer to the solutions they demand and need.
During this critical pre-election season, “la promesa de Obama” has turned into a political slogan that has troubling implications for the Latino vote. You don’t need an expert to tell you that Republicans won’t be picking up too many new Latino voters this November. However, those experts are also saying that “President Barack Obama will have a hard time getting out the Hispanic vote he badly needs in November to keep his party’s control of Congress.” While it’s certainly important to keep the pressure on Democrats, Spanish language media may want to dedicate at least as much energy to reminding its audience of what a Republican-controlled Congress means for “la promesa de Obama.” For that matter, so should Democrats. In 2010, it’s hard for Latinos to find a political champion in either party. If they don’t vote, it’ll be even harder to find one in 2011. It’s time for the “Walter Cronkite of Spanish-language media” to look towards the future as much as he reminds Obama of the past.