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Why Latinos Are Frustrated: It’s Called Leadership

by Dara Lind on 08/13/2010 at 2:20pm

As Politico reported last week, Spanish-language media, just like Latino voters, are growing increasingly frustrated with Washington’s inaction on comprehensive immigration reform — and with the Obama Administration’s policy of continuing Bush-era immigration enforcement policies that deport the undocumented immigrant moms and dads who were supposed to be legal taxpayers and citizens by now.

Seems like pretty justified anger, but over at ThinkProgress, Matt Yglesias states that the President shouldn’t get too much blame, because showing leadership would somehow make the near-hysterical immigration debate “partisan” and “polarized:”

“…when Presidents insert themselves into legislative debates, that induces partisan polarization. Immigration has always been an issue that scrambles both parties coalitions, and I don’t think that’s changed today. A more polarized dynamic is only going to make reform harder to achieve. Of course the president would have a role in pushing a bill over the finish line, but success requires a starting baseline of genuine cooperation on the Hill.”

Here’s the thing. The immigration debate in Congress is already partisan and polarized.  When it comes to the issue of immigration, Republicans are lock step behind a partisan political strategy instead of a responsible legislative strategy. In a year when John McCain’s immigration platform is “complete the danged fence,” Lindsey Graham wants to scrap the 14th Amendment to the Constitution because of the imaginary threat of what he calls “drop and leave” births, and GOP candidates propose everything from tent cities to 1940’s-style internment camps for the undocumented, it’s clear that Republicans don’t feel pressure to offer a pragmatic solution to illegal immigration.

Perhaps the only thing that could break the polarization in Washington and start the long process back toward bipartisanship on the issue is if the Democrats—including the President—spoke up loudly, confidently, and consistently about dangers of the Republican approach and the need for real comprehensive immigration reform. Sure, the President can’t be the only voice of reason in order to break the logjam, but he can guide the way.  He has given some good speeches, but he has not spoken about the issue nearly as much as he needs to.  Doing so would draw clear lines for American voters and raise the stakes for the GOP: will Republican politicians stick with their fantasy-land proposals, or will they be dragged to table to craft a real solution that Americans of all political persuasions actually want?

Instead, the Administration and Democratic leaders often act like they are afraid of the issue, choosing to highlight their similarities with Republicans on “securing the border” instead of highlighting the fact that comprehensive immigration reform is the only way to a truly secure border. Just look at the rush to bring the Senate back from recess to pass an “emergency” bill that sends another $600 million in troops and unmanned drones to the border, but does nothing to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants in our country today.

As Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice, said when the border bill was passed:

“By bringing the border bill forward, Democratic leaders say they are hoping to court Republicans who have refused to negotiate on comprehensive immigration reform until the border is ‘secure.’  But who decides it’s ‘secure,’ and when, and how?  Already, Republican Members of Congress are saying the bill doesn’t go far enough.  The fact is, Republican senators and representatives have made a political decision not to work with Democrats on comprehensive immigration reform because they think this is in their electoral interests.  They are wrong.  Not only are they alienating Latino voters with their anti-immigrant rhetoric, but they are irresponsibly blocking a solution that America desperately needs.”

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