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Obama’s broken promises

In November 2008, my husband and I, who both volunteered for Barack Obama’s campaign, shed tears of joy when Obama was elected. The election of an African American president with a progressive agenda and a message of “change” and “hope” was something I never expected to happen in my lifetime.  

Immigration advocates breathed a collective sigh of relief, fully expecting an end to the Bush administration’s rampant raids and deportations.  We eagerly waited for Obama to fulfill “La Promesa” – the promise he made to Latinos that he would push for immigration reform during his first year in office. Immigration reform was a top goal of the administration during the first term. With a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate and a progressive Democratic president, we anticipated that comprehensive immigration reform would quickly come to pass. 

{mosads}Yet “La Promesa” was never fulfilled and six years later, the administration’s record on immigration is one of broken promises, traumatized communities and shattered families. Unless drastic action is taken in the last half of his term,  Obama will be forever known as the man who deported more people than any other president in U.S. history. It is no wonder he has earned the moniker “Deporter-in-Chief.”  A look at the president’s trajectory reveals why. 

Despite his promise to deliver reform in 2008, he never took action during the administration’s entire first term.  Immigration reform was barely a blip on the political radar screen – the only notable exception being in the area of deportations.  

Then the administration ramped up the enforcement machinery, so much so that Obama set a record for numbers of deportations every year of his first term, including an astounding 409,849 individuals in 2012. Those of us working on the front lines of this issue were stunned, never expecting that someone we fought to get elected would betray our community so intensely. We never imagined that we would find ourselves fighting so hard against an Administration that pledged to be on our side. 

Obama’s betrayal led to the emergence of new tactics.  After two years of steady protests, immigrant rights activists, young undocumented students and their allies began to engage in civil disobedience, getting arrested outside federal immigration jails – an essential cog in Obama’s deportation machine.  And the movement started protesting at Obama’s campaign events, putting into jeopardy key elements of his coalition: Latinos, Asians and immigrant allies.   

Obama acted, using executive authority in June of 2012 to provide deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) allowing undocumented young people who grew up in the US a two-year relief from deportation.  

On the campaign trail for a second term, Obama again promised that comprehensive immigration reform would be a “top priority” after the elections.  Faced with an alternative candidate who promoted “self-deportation,” an overwhelming majority of Latinos, Asians and immigrants voted for Obama. After the small step of DACA, many of us believed that surely this time, the President would stay true to his word. 

Now DACA looks like a cynical campaign ploy. As legislative efforts got underway in the Senate, Obama and his staff took a backseat, insisting that they did not want to “get in the way,” while doing nothing to broker a deal with House leadership.  Obama asked immigrant rights advocates to be patient yet again even as the House failed repeatedly to take up the Senate’s passed bill.  Immigrant rights advocates began to push Obama more aggressively to use his executive authority to provide relief for families facing deportation.   

Not surprisingly, efforts to advance legislation in the Republican controlled House proved an epic fail and by May of this year, it became clear even to Obama that legislation was dead.  Facing immense pressure from advocates, Latinos and immigrants, President Obama held a press conference in June saying he would take executive action to address the immigration crisis by summer’s end. By this time President Obama’s record breaking deportation numbers stood at over 2 million people. 

At around the time when executive action was expected, Obama broke yet another promise, with the White House announcing that the president would delay executive action until after the elections. The reaction among immigrants and Latinos was swift, with many expressing feelings of rage, disillusionment and bitter cynicism.  

It is now November. The elections are over, and still our communities wait filled with anxiety and consequence as every day, 1000 people are deported. Obama’s broken promises have ripped apart families while deporting parents and breadwinners.   

Today, the tears I shed are now tears of anger, sorrow and disappointment — over lost hope, broken families and traumatized communities. I mourn a legacy that once seemed so promising.

 Matos is director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change..

Tags Barack Obama

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