Democrats on life support when it comes to Latino vote

As Congress enters a long August recess, Republicans have shown not only that they won't address pressing issues — immigration reform or even less-controversial funding to help fight West Coast wildfires — but also that they are incapable of fulfilling their constitutional mandate to legislate.

Republicans blocked immigration reform: that much is obvious to voters, particularly Latino voters, like those in my own family. Voters also know, however, that President Obama is actually responsible for a record 2 million deportations, even though Democrats are running a pro-immigrant platform.

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For Democrats, there is good news and bad news (and good news for independents): According to a recent Latino Decisions poll, if the president does nothing on immigration, 54 percent of Latino voters would be less likely to vote for Democrats, and 57 percent would be less motivated about going to the polls.

On the other hand, if the president takes bold action, more than 60 percent of voters would be more enthusiastic to support Democrats. Even more relevant, the poll noted failure to sign an executive order on immigration would "significantly depress turnout" among Latinos in 2014 and beyond.

The opportunity to pick a high-profile policy fight to motivate the Latino, Asian and independent vote around a human rights and immigration theme is clearly there for Democrats; will they take this up, or let yet another golden opportunity slip by?

In addition to an executive order being the right thing to do, the same poll found that it would be generally well received, much like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that provided deportation relief to Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

DACA gave Democrats a huge bump among Latino and Asian voters in time for 2012, allowing Democrats to keep the Senate and sending Obama to a second term. Indeed, DACA prompted many in my family to vote for the first time.

For Latino voters, the issue of immigration is personal: Of those who know undocumented immigrants, 91 percent say these are their friends and family members. Nearly one-third of all Latino voters personally know someone who has been detained or deported for immigration reasons, and 97 percent of those deported are Latino.

Such polling is a sign that Democrats must urge bold action from the president on immigration, including expanding deportation relief to other identifiable groups who are low priority with no violent criminal records; refining prosecutorial discretion, ensuring parents who return to be with their families are not deported; updating Department of Defense policy to allow Dreamers to serve in the military; and properly reforming the Secure Communities program so that local police will focus their attention on fighting crime.

No electoral campaign can get as close to such voters as their undocumented spouse, sister or friend can. Campaign commercials or mailings attempt to inform voters, but undocumented family members can provide more direct and decisive information on a policy and politics: While undocumented immigrants do not have a vote, they do have a voice.

Right now, Obama has the potential to energize the Latino base in time for an off-year election, solidify a pro-family Democrat narrative in the Latino and Asian communities and give Republicans a difficult target to fight against politically.

There will doubtlessly be screams of tyranny from fight-right figures like Laura Ingraham or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has become de facto Speaker of the House. At this point, however, it's difficult for the House GOP to even rationalize why they're against immigration reform, and it will be even more difficult for them to fight against modest attempts at executive reform by the Obama administration while they do nothing.

Keeping families together should be enough incentive to call for immediate presidential action on immigration. Nevertheless, the electoral equation is simple: Executive action will energize voters, particularly Latino voters, to turn out; no executive action will paint national Democrats as ineffective at leading in the face of obstruction.

Vargas is co-director of the DREAM Action Coalition and a national activist for immigration reform.