Commentary Magazine


Hispanics Not Fooled by Obama’s Immigration Feint

President Obama’s trip to Texas, where he will give a speech on the need for immigration reform in El Paso, has been crafted for maximum political advantage. The point is to remind Hispanics that the president supports their goal of providing a path to legality and citizenship for illegals and Republicans do not. If the president proposes another go at immigration reform and is turned down by Congress, part of which is now controlled by the GOP, that should ensure maximum loyalty for Obama’s reelection bid on the part of most Hispanics.

In theory, it ought to work. Many in the Republican caucus in Congress are hostile to anything that smacks of “amnesty” for illegals and most Hispanics deeply resent GOP-backed legislation aimed at enforcing existing immigration laws in places like Arizona.

But Hispanic leaders are not buying what Obama is selling. The blatant insincerity of this gambit is turning off the intended objects of his appeal. As Politico reports today, Hispanics understand that the president is merely playing them.

First, if immigration reform had truly been a priority for Obama then he might have spent some time working on it during his first two years in office when his party controlled both houses of Congress. The fact that he didn’t lift a finger on this issue until the Republican victory last November made passage of reform an impossibility makes it hard for even the most partisan of Hispanic Democrats to take Obama at face value on immigration.

Second, even the president’s current efforts are completely for show rather than a genuine attempt to pass a bill. The White House has made no effort to reach out to Congress to pave the way for legislation, a sure tipoff that nothing serious is planned.

Even more damaging, as far as Hispanic Democrats are concerned, is the president’s point-blank refusal to use his executive power to halt the deportations of illegal aliens, especially those students who might have benefitted from the Dream Act, the bill to legalize students and military personnel who were brought to the United States by their parents. It fell just short of passage in the Congress last year. The Hispanic Caucus is also urging the White House to expand waivers for illegal immigrants who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. But Obama continues to refuse to do any of this.

The reasoning for his refusal is similarly political. Obama knows that while speeches about amnesty might help him among Hispanics, they won’t do him much harm with other groups that might vote for him. If he used his executive power to erode the government’s efforts to deport illegals, however, the chances are he would undermine his standing with independents.

So while the national press corps is dutifully following Obama to Texas to assist his efforts to embarrass Republicans, it may be that the sector of the population least impressed with him on this issue is Hispanics. While Republicans have harmed themselves with these voters by allowing demagogues to be the loudest voices heard on immigration, most Hispanics know that it was George W. Bush who made immigration reform a priority in his second term, but failed to get a bill passed in no small measure because Democrats and liberals refused to help him get around members of his own party. They also know that more deportations have taken place in Obama’s two years in office than occurred during the Bush presidency.

Barack Obama is right when he says America needs immigration reform, but he’s wrong if he thinks his attempt to use this issue for political advantage will convince anyone of his sincerity.