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Obama Courts Hispanic Votes with Speech at US-Mexican Border

The Democratic Party is attempting to woo the Hispanic voter by emphasizing its support for immigration reform.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 5/11/2011, 9:49 PM / Last Update: 5/11/2011, 11:11 PM

 It is not rocket science to realize that the Hispanic vote is crucial to the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama's chances for reelection in 2012. The Democratic Party is counting on mobilizing the Hispanic vote to offset some of the defections from Obama's coalition in 2008.

The 2010 elections were a disaster for the Democrats but they would have been even worse if the Hispanic vote had not come out, particularly in states where illegal immigration was a major issue in the campaign. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada owes his victory to Hispanic voters who supported him in large numbers.

However Hispanics want a quid pro quo for their support, mainly in the form of legalizing those who immigrated to the United States illegally.The majority of illegals are of Hispanic extraction. They feel betrayed that Obama did not campaign for comprehensive immigration reform with the same fire that he campaigned for the health bill.

The main demand by opponents of immigration reform was that the first priority is to secure America's borders. If the borders were not secure, then amnesty or some form of payment by illegal immigrants in return for a path to citizenship would merely open up the floodgates for successive waves of illegal migrants. Therefore Obama flew to the US-Mexican border near the city of El Paso Texas to proclaim that the war against illegal immigration had been won thanks to an investment in manpower and technology. Now it remained for opponents of immigration reform, particularly the Republicans, to come up with their side of the deal now that the federal government had done its share.

The administration spinners tried to portray Obama as the conciliator who was pushing for immigration reform while addressing the needs for security. Obama's address provoked anger from both sides. The Republicans dismissed the speech as political electioneering; others questioned its rosy description of reality. Perhaps the worst cut of all was the reaction of the Hispanic groups.

Hispanic groups and their representatives in Congress view Obama's attempt to persuade a House of Representatives with a Republican majority and a Senate that is more closely divided under Democratic control as an exercise in futility. Some would agree with the Republican's description of the speech as simple electioneering.  

Obama is lobbing the ball into the court of Congress and the knowledge that Congress is in no mood for it immigration reform and therefore Obama will receive credit for trying and in the elections he will be held to blame a recalcitrant Congress.

What the Hispanics are telling Obama is that even without immigration reform in Congress. he Obama could do a great deal more simply because he controls the federal bureaucracy. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL-4), Chair of the Immigration Taskforce of the Congressional Hispanic Caucuscharged that under Obama the US was deporting 400,000 people a year more than under President Bush.

Therefore the Illinois congressman urges the President to say that "we will not deport the wives of U.S. soldiers or the class valedictorians or the parents of U.S. citizens until Congress acts to pass broad and sensible reform. If that sparks a fight with Republicans in Congress, let's have that fight."

In other words, the Hispanics want Obama to pass down that the federal government will not take action against large categories of illegal immigrants. It is not certain that President Obama can allow himself to adopt this policy.

For one thing the United States federal government has been fighting the state governments who want to take a tougher stand on illegal immigration with the arguments that immigration is a federal responsibility and therefore state legislation is invalid. If he were to come out and say that the federal government is taking a backseat on the issue of illegal immigrants he would be effectively playing into the hands of the states in this legal battle.