SAN DIEGO – With just weeks until the midterm elections, Democrats are in the doghouse with Latino voters.
It’s because of immigration, where Democrats have overplayed their hand of blaming Republicans when they fail to do the right thing or even worse – do the wrong thing. Some Democrats go so far as to hold House Republicans responsible for the fact that President Barack Obama has deported record numbers of illegal immigrants.
We’re not supposed to remember that, during Obama’s first term, then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano repeatedly bragged to Congress about how many people her department had deported in a year and promised to remove even more the next.
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This doesn’t mean that huge numbers of Latinos will suddenly vote Republican. That won’t happen as long as the GOP tolerates bigotry within its ranks and brands itself as the party of closed borders and closed minds. But many Latinos are likely to find better things to do on Election Day than cast ballots for a party that often takes them for fools.
In June, a poll by Latino Decisions/Center for American Progress Action Fund found that 54 percent of Latinos would be less enthusiastic to vote for Democratic candidates if Obama broke his promise to use executive power to fix the immigration system by the end of summer.
Now there are signs of a Great Awakening.
▪ Last month in Iowa, Hillary Rodham Clinton made a hasty retreat when confronted by “dreamers” who demanded to know if she would fulfill Obama’s promise and use executive power to ease up on deportations or continue Obama’s draconian enforcement policies; the protesters put the encounter on YouTube.
▪ A few weeks ago in Washington, Obama was heckled by a 31-year-old paralegal named Blanca Hernandez, who disrupted his remarks at a gala for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute by yelling: “What happened to change we can believe in?”
▪ The next day, Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org, which describes itself as the nation’s largest online Latino organizing group, published an op-ed on Time.com titled “Latinos Are Stuck in an Abusive Relationship with Democrats.” In it, Carmona argued that – in an upside-down world – the only way to force Obama to act on immigration is to “break up with” the Democratic Party.
▪ A few days later, Jose Antonio Vargas – undocumented immigrant, journalist and filmmaker – admitted in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that he made a mistake in thinking that electing Obama would improve the tone on immigration. “If you had told me that Barack Obama, the first minority president, would be responsible for deporting more immigrants [than any other U.S. president before him],” I would have told you you were nuts,” he said. “I still can’t believe it.”
▪ Then Carmona fired off another round, this one at the do-nothings in the Democratic-controlled Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He told Politico that the relationship between the Latino community and the CHC was at an “all-time low,” and that, for failing to stand up to Obama and demand an end to the deportation juggernaut, the caucus deserves an “F.”
▪ Meanwhile, several progressive groups attacked Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes for peddling demagoguery. The Kentucky Democrat has run campaign ads criticizing her opponent, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for supporting the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which legalized nearly 3 million people. In the spots, Grimes – who once supported comprehensive reform – declares on the ad: “I’ve never supported amnesty or benefits for illegal immigrants and I never will.” MoveOn.org called the advertising “offensive” and “deeply upsetting.” Democracy for America said it was “hurtful” and “dehumanized” immigrants. Latino Victory Project called it “ugly politics.”
▪ Finally, there was a salvo from Cesar Vargas, co-founder of the Dream Act Coalition. In an op-ed for The Hill newspaper, Vargas called Democratic leaders “weak and opportunistic” and demanded that Obama keep his promise “to protect our liberties and keep American families together.” He even took a shot at “sham allies that have become overly enthusiastic puppets of the [Democratic] Party.” Vargas noted that Democrats “have become deceptively clever in exploiting constituent groups to win elections” but predicted they are now “on the verge of losing a generation of voters that have lost confidence in their leadership.”
The fog is lifting. Democrats haven’t been there when Latinos needed them. On Election Day, Latino voters are going to return the favor.
Navarrette’s email address is ruben @rubennavarrette.com.