Dems do damage control on immigration

Dems do damage control on immigration
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Democrats are in damage-control mode in the wake of the White House decision to postpone executive action on immigration until after November’s elections.

Immigrant rights advocates on and off Capitol Hill are up in arms over the delay, leading to Democratic concerns that the decision will alienate Hispanic and other immigrant voters — who tend to side with the Democrats — at the polls in November. 

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In response, many Democrats are trying to channel the advocates' frustrations away from President Obama — and, by extension, Democratic candidates — and toward Republicans, who have refused to consider any immigration reform legislation this Congress.

“Why should we punish friends and allies that have been true to our cause? That doesn't make any political sense,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said Monday at an immigration rally in Chicago, urging advocates to adopt “a smart political strategy” that includes getting to the polls.

“This suppresses the vote in our community,” Gutierrez acknowledged, “[but] we are going to take measures to make sure that people still come out to vote.”

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), who, like Gutiérrez, is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), was even more blunt in assessing Obama's delay. 

“The Latino community is frustrated with the president but pissed off with Republicans,” Cardenas said Sunday on CNN's “State of the Union” program.

Breaking earlier vows to take executive steps this summer to make its deportation policies more “humane,” the Obama administration revealed Saturday that it won't make any unilateral moves until after the Nov. 4 midterms. 

The decision came after a number of red-state Senate Democrats, facing tough reelection bids this year, had pressed the president to postpone any new immigration policies for fear of energizing Republican voters.

The White House defended the delay Monday, saying it's worth the short-term criticism to get a long-term deal on immigration reform.

"The president's willing to take a little political heat from the pundits, from some of the advocates in the Hispanic community, in particular, in order to ensure that the policy that he puts forward is one that can be sustained," said press secretary Josh Earnest.

But immigrant rights groups, already frustrated that Obama hasn't made good on 2008 and 2012 campaign promises to enact comprehensive immigration reform, say the delay is just another broken promise — one that will haunt Democrats at the polls.

“The people who knock on doors, who stand in grocery store parking lots registering voters, who make phone calls, their life just got a lot more difficult,” Frank Sharry, head of America's Voice, an advocacy group, said Monday. 

“If the president had acted decisively, [the message] would be: ‘The Republicans blocked immigration reform; the president is protecting millions of immigrants; vote for the Democrats,’ ” Sharry added. “Now it's, ‘Well, the Republicans hate you; the Democrats don't seem to respect you; so vote for yourself.’”

A House Democratic leadership aide said Monday that the trick for party leaders will be to redirect immigrants' angst toward the Republicans. Obama’s delay might not be popular, the aide argued, but the Democrats remain the advocates' best hope of getting comprehensive immigration reform through Congress.

“[We'll] try to get them focused on: It [Obama's executive action] is coming, and you have to elect more Democrats to make whatever he does more sustainable,” the aide said. “They should get that.”

Gutiérrez, for his part, suggested it’s futile for advocates to press Obama to reconsider the timing of his executive action. “If I thought that ... tying myself up to the gate of the White House would make a difference and change his mind, I'd do that,” he said.

Still, he vowed to clamor for more sweeping changes post-election as a result of the delay.

“I'm going to work so that the executive action of the president is more generous, broader and more inclusive than anything he might have announced,” Gutierrez said. 

Democratic leaders, who have urged Obama to use any and all of his powers to rein in deportations, have been largely silent since the White House announced its delay.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) expressed some frustration Monday that changes in immigration policy "won’t happen as soon as we had hoped," but emphasized that post-election changes are better than none.  

“The good news is that the President reaffirmed that he will act under the law to fix what he can using his executive authority,”Becerra said in an email.

But in the eyes of some advocates, the delay marks a missed opportunity that Hispanic voters won't soon forget.

“Obama had an opportunity to define and distinguish the two parties for a generation with the fastest-growing groups of voters in the country,” Sharry said. “Yes, we understood there was risk. But when you don't take advantage of that opportunity, especially after you've promised it, it's not so easy to just make it up later.”