You could almost hear a crack in the immigration-activist universe as Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), called President Obama the “deporter-in-chief.”
Murguia has been on the front lines fighting for immigration reform for years. She is the consummate Washington insider who gets results by pulling the right levers of power at the appropriate moments.
“I voted for President Obama, and I don’t want to see his legacy be that of the president that has deported more people than anybody else in the history of the country. ... It’s not too late for him to turn around and stop the deportations,” National Day Laborer Organizing Network’s executive director Pablo Alvarado told Voxxi.
Magic realism has replaced political strategy for many of these activists groups, goaded by some irresponsible Democrats in the House hoping that the collective anger of these groups and the shrill pressure on Obama from Spanish-language media will insulate them from the fury being directed at them.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) has said, “There are devastating effects if the Congress of the United States cannot enact comprehensive immigration reform – then the president of the United States has the responsibility to act to defend those immigrants which he says he wants to provide safety and justice for.” Gutierrez's reckless obfuscation between executive action and immigration reform legislation has essentially cast doubt on our constitutional system of governance.
Confusion drives this notion of an uber-presidency lording over Congress. In 2012, Obama used his prosecutorial discretion to create a kind of mini-Dream Act. He ordered the Homeland Security Department to prioritize resources on capturing and deporting dangerous individuals with criminal records and other antecedents.
With this action, Obama tweaked the indiscriminate deportation program already in place and mandated by Congress in favor of a smarter strategy that would keep young, successful people brought to the country as minors within our society, with the possibility of joining the military or attending college.
After the 2012 election in which Obama carried the popular vote by a margin of more than 5 million Americans, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), seeing the disastrous performance of Mitt Romney with Hispanic voters (and all other minority groups), said that immigration reform would be a priority for the next Congress. Boehner stated "[The immigration] issue has been around far too long … A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I'm confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."
Since that famous declaration, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives has avoided an immigration reform vote like a truculent child avoiding his homework. There have been no excuses spared: process issues, policy disagreements and sometimes simple deception have been used by Boehner to repeatedly block a vote.
Just a few weeks ago Boehner announced his “principles” for immigration reform, a skinny document that was supposed to reflect the consensus of the House GOP caucus to move forward. Days later, faced with yet another revolt from Tea Party Republicans, Boehner walked back his immigration wish-list and declared that immigration reform was dead for this year.
Immigrant-activist groups like the NCLR have been willing to give the GOP as much space as possible to move forward on some kind of immigration vote and revitalize the process. And once Boehner killed immigration reform again, desperation set in.
What’s happened since is a tragic combination of anguish at the growing numbers of deported people — and to be clear, these are not criminals, but fathers and mothers raising their kids — and, in some cases, a profound ignorance of how the American political system works.
This is when the infamously naive “Plan B,” which had emerged in the fringes of the activist community, started to make inroads in the mainstream. Plan B refers to the magic realism power that Obama supposedly possesses to undo current immigration law and stop all deportations.
Instead of focusing on the real problem of Boehner and his party’s serial deception in regard to blocking immigration reform — these activists decided to hike the yellow brick road looking for the wizard.
While energetic and in many cases inspirational, these young activists have converted the political discourse from what the GOP must do in the House to what Obama is supposedly not doing by “allowing” deportations mandated under law by Congress.
Most surprising are the actions of the NCLR’s Murguia and other experienced political players who have joined the march toward immigration reform failure by advocating that Obama break the law.
One is left to ask: When will these activists expend equal energy and resources to transform the political system by driving Latino voting from its pathetic lows (under 50 percent of American Hispanics voted in the 2012 elections) to the levels where no politician in the land can ignore this critical constituency?
Voting has consequences. Elections define the future. And immigrant activists still don’t get this simple truth.
Espuelas, a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, is a political analyst on television, radio and in print. He is the host and managing editor of “The Fernando Espuelas Show,” a daily political talk show syndicated nationally by the Univision America Network. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and via Twitter @EspuelasVox.