In a closely-watched speech at the NCLR conference, President Obama reiterated his support for comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, and then proceeded to say that because of the way our government works, he could not simply take matters into his own hands. In a remarkable and spontaneous response, the audience began chanting, “Yes You Can! Yes You Can!” In fact, the official transcript includes this excerpt:
AUDIENCE: Yes, you can! Yes, you can! Yes, you can! Yes, you can! Yes, you can!
Within a few moments, the crowd settled down. The President, though, had clearly been sent a message, which goes a little something like:
You are the President; you can steer your Administration’s policies and practices so that they line up with your values and priorities, yet your Administration is deporting more immigrants than ever. With Republicans hardliners controlling the House, chances for a much-needed legislative breakthrough are slim, but you have plenty of authority, Mr. President: you have the authority to protect young people eligible for the DREAM Act, you have the authority to overhaul rather than expand deeply flawed enforcement programs such as Secure Communities and 287(g), and you have the authority to make it easier for families to stay together rather than get ripped apart. In other words, Mr. President, “Yes You Can!”
The audience reaction sent a loud and clear message that the Latino community wants more than speeches. They want bold action. If the White House stance is ‘No We Can’t,’ that may be the response they get when they come asking for Latino and immigrant votes. On the other hand, if the President takes on the Republican nativists bent on mass deportation, fights for a community under siege and wins, ‘Yes You Can’ would become, once again, ‘Yes We Can.’