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Heading to White House Meeting on Immigration, Paging Governor Napolitano

by Frank Sharry on 08/20/2009 at 9:30am

Well, this ought to be interesting.

In a couple hours, I’ll join Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and 130 immigrant advocates, business and labor leaders, and law enforcement representatives to discuss immigration policy at the White House.

This meeting comes amidst a growing chorus of criticism and concern from Latino leaders and immigrant advocates who believe that Secretary Napolitano is emphasizing the continuation of controversial Bush-era immigration enforcement tactics and downplaying the need for real, comprehensive immigration reform. This, combined with the fact that President Obama is now saying it will be 2010 before Congress fixes immigration.

Jorge Ramos– arguably the most trusted name in Spanish language news– penned a Miami Herald column yesterday about the current state of affairs.  In the column, Ramos lays out the risks of moving forward too fast, especially with the health care debate dominating politics. He goes on to describe the risks of delaying immigration reform.

An excerpt from Ramos’ column, translated into English here:

Rushing reform in a Congress currently dealing with a host of other issues could be fatal.  It has happened to us before in 2006 and 2007.  But waiting too long could destroy the legitimate hope of millions.  George Bush delayed movement on immigration reform for 7 years, and when he wanted to move it, he had no political capital left.

Ramos adds a note on the political consequences of inaction for Latino voters:

Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 – 67 percent – in exchange for his promise of legalizing undocumented immigrants.  They are not going to forget that promise. I think Hispanics and Latinos can wait for the President a little bit more.  There is no other choice.  He makes his own action calendar.  But if nothing happens in 2010, Latino voters are going to remind Obama about that unfulfilled promise in the next election, giving what they got.

Ramos is right on both points. Obama is committed to reform and given the way the health care reform debate is dominating American politics, a brief delay is understandable. But, unless the President delivers swiftly on his promise of action, the political consequences in 2010 could be significant.  No, it’s not that Latino immigrants and their loved ones will suddenly vote for a Republican Party that seems bent on giving Hispanic voters the back of the hand at every turn. It’s that it will be supremely difficult to mobilize these voters to come out again in the record numbers of 2008 if the change they voted for fails to materialize.

In other words, if fervent hopes for immigration reform turn into dashed ones, many Latino immigrant voters who turned out for the first time in 2008 are likely to sit out 2010.

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