Obama and Latinos Are at the Breaking Point

The deportations have been bad enough, but Obama’s inaction on the border crisis might be the straw that breaks the donkey’s back.

Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

For Latino Democrats, especially Mexican-Americans, supporting President Obama’s reelection in 2012 was about voting for the lesser of two evils. Now, given the Obama administration’s callous treatment of thousands of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America and its plans to send the kids back into harm’s way forthwith without the encumbrance of due process, never mind “lesser.” We’re left only with “evil.”

Latino Democrats have been biting their tongues over how Obama has racked up 2 million deportations—mostly of Latinos—in five and a half years. But given how much Latinos worship the institution of the family and how they fawn over children, the border kids could just be the straw that breaks the donkey’s back.

The only question is: “What are Latino Democrats going to do about it?” Answering it requires confronting what we already know—that most of our elected officials, of all colors and backgrounds, are in it for themselves and don’t represent their constituents. It also brings us to the sensitive subject of how U.S.-born Latinos often don’t care what happens to Latino immigrants or refugees, especially if they show up at the back door without permission.

A few days ago, at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza in Los Angeles, Janet Murguia, the organization’s president and CEO, noted that July 18-20 had been designated Interfaith Weekend of Compassion and Prayer for Unaccompanied Migrant Children.

That’s a nice thought, but as is usually the case with thorny subjects that might get her organization crossways with liberal foundations and Democratic donors that keep it afloat, Murguia doesn’t get it. If there is one thing that the recent border crisis has taught the nation’s 52 million Latinos, it’s this: What we really need to pray for is better leaders.

“Better” means more courageous and more independent, less partisan and less motivated by self-interest. “Better” means being as willing to criticize the Democrats who fail our community with as much gusto as we do those Republicans who antagonize it.

We could start with groups like the NCLR, whose leaders are more worried about where the next corporate sponsorship is coming from than with going to bat for the most vulnerable elements of the Latino community—immigrants, and, given what’s happening right now on our southern border, refugees.

From there, we could head to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus—27 Democratic members of Congress who can trace their ancestry to Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Between them, they haven’t had an original thought or proposed much meaningful legislation. Most of them are only there for one reason—to get reelected. This means not offering provocative remarks on a combustible topic like immigration, which is sure to make them enemies. When members of the Hispanic Caucus talk about immigration, it is usually in generalities.

That reminds me. By now, Henry Cuellar must be one confused congressman. The Texas Democrat, who represents a border region, recently told Politico that he and President Obama are “on the same line” regarding what to do with 57,000 Central American youths who streamed across the U.S.-Mexico border since October 2013.

And yet, during a recent two-hour meeting between Obama and the 27 Democratic members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, including Cuellar, Obama appeared to give Cuellar the cold shoulder.

In politics, appearances are often deceiving. A better assessment of what happened at that meeting is that, as busy as Obama and the lawmakers are these days, both sides found time to play charades.

No, that’s not right. What I mean is that both sides found time to put on a charade. Let me explain.

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The line for public consumption—which was gobbled up by Eastern media whose understanding of immigration, the border, and Hispanics in the United States is a taco short of a combination plate—is that Obama had a swell meeting with all the members of the Hispanic Caucus except for one. Cuellar reportedly got a frosty reception from the Commander-in-Chief because both Obama and the CHC are against a bill that Cuellar is cosponsoring with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) that would rewrite current law so that unaccompanied minors from Central America could be deported more quickly.

“There was a pledge by the president to continue to work with the CHC to try to do what is right by our communities in a way that stays within the laws of this country,” CHC Vice Chair Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) told Politico.

In other words, the Hispanic Caucus emerged from the meeting empty-handed. No worries. As Democrats, they’ve shown previously that they don’t require much to fall back in line.

Under the Cornyn-Cuellar bill, unaccompanied minors—regardless of what country they come from—would have an immigration court hearing within seven days of being processed by Health and Human Services. Then, an immigration judge would have to rule within three more days on whether the child could stay or had to be deported.

But in truth, the President and the Hispanic Caucus are supposedly against the Cornyn-Cuellar bill. You see, if the language of the bill sounds familiar, it’s because the power to do speedy removals is exactly what the White House has been asking for since the border crisis came to light several weeks ago. An article in USA TODAY on July 2 bore the headline: “Obama Seeks Change to Law that Protects Immigrant Kids.” The article went on to explain that Obama was seeking changes essentially just like Cornyn-Cuellar.

So, in other words, whatever theatrical performance Obama put on for the benefit of the other Democrats in the CHC, Cuellar is doing the president’s bidding. They want the same thing—the border kids on the next plane. For the mega-ambitious Cuellar, it’s about shoring up his support among conservatives in Texas so he can lay the groundwork a future run at governor or U.S. Senate. For Obama, who doesn’t have to worry about going before voters again, it’s about protecting Democrats in Congress by getting the border kids story off the front page and off the airwaves well in advance of Nov. 4. The only friction between the two was tied to the fact that a couple of weeks earlier, Cuellar had criticized Obama for not visiting the border.

Of course, some of the Democrats whom Obama seeks to protect on Election Day are members of the Hispanic Caucus. So in the end, even though it will put them further out-of-step with those Latino constituents who think that due process should be preserved and that the border kids should not be given the bum’s rush, we can expect all those Democratic lawmakers to fall quietly in line behind Obama, and, consequently, behind the Cornyn-Cuellar bill.

Just one big happy familia.