Skip to main content

Will Obama's immigration initiative sway Latinos?

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
June 15, 2012 -- Updated 2144 GMT (0544 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama administration says it will stop deporting young illegal immigrants
  • Ruben Navarrette: This is a stunt to help improve Obama's chance with Latino voters
  • He says some DREAM'ers may benefit from Obama's initiative, but many probably won't
  • Navarrette: Obama's immigration record is most impressive to those who follow it least closely

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

San Diego (CNN) -- Did you ever wonder why Charlie Brown kept charging at the football, despite the fact that Lucy always pulled it away and he wound up flat on his back? You would think that experience has made him skeptical. It's because he really wanted to believe that, this time, things would work out. And when you really want to believe in something, you have a short memory when it comes to past disappointments.

That's how it is with many Latinos and other immigration reform advocates. They want President Obama to become the person they voted for -- who promised Latinos that he would fix a broken immigration system, stop dividing families, and push through Congress a Dream Act-like legislation that would give undocumented young people a pathway to legal status if they go to college or join the military.

None of that happened, and so Latinos -- who, in 2008, voted overwhelmingly for Obama -- are ambivalent about the president's re-election.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Something had to be done to convince Latinos that the president is on their side.

Today, something was done. Or rather, something was promised. The Obama administration announced that it would stop deporting younger illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children -- provided they meet certain conditions -- and begin granting work permits to them.

Illegal immigrants will supposedly benefit from the new policy if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16, if they are 30 or younger, if they have lived in the country for at least five years, if they have no criminal record and if they attend or graduated from a U.S. high school, or have served in the military.

The policy change could affect as many as 800,000 immigrants -- so-called DREAM'ers -- who would have benefited from the DREAM Act had it not been blocked by Congress. These people have been living in fear of being deported by the same administration that is now offering the pardon.

Confused? Just wait. It gets better. We've only just begun to make our way down this rabbit hole.

The administration is obviously trying to "checkmate" a nearly identical proposal floated by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, which reportedly would also stop DREAM'ers from being deported and issue them work permits. The Rubio plan would not offer a pathway to citizenship. About this omission, the left was incensed. But Obama isn't offering a pathway to citizenship either, and yet many in the left couldn't be happier. Where is the consistency?

Then there is the inconvenient fact that we're not supposed to even need this kind of policy change because, according to Obama, his administration isn't deporting DREAM'ers at all; instead, it's concentrating its enforcement efforts on criminals. That's exactly what Obama told Univision anchor Jorge Ramos during a March 2011 trip to El Salvador. A couple of weeks later, Obama had to swallow those words when -- during an education town hall meeting in Washington, sponsored by Univision -- he was confronted by a DREAM'er holding deportation papers. So now we're supposed to applaud the administration for not deporting people the president had claimed weren't being deported in the first place.

Of course, the administration is deporting DREAM'ers, along with gardeners, housekeepers, nannies and ice cream vendors who represent no threat to public safety. It's a waste of time for officials to deny that.

Just this week, I wrote in my CNN.com column about another one of Obama's broken promises. The administration pledged to use prosecutorial discretion to free from deportation proceedings individuals who had been in the country for a number of years, had U.S.-born children, or were otherwise rooted in the United States. That included DREAM'ers. So far, the promise hasn't amounted to much of anything.

I expect a similar outcome with DREAM'ers. Some of them may benefit from Obama's new initiative, but many probably won't. That's because the idea behind the DREAM Act -- trading legal status for college attendance or military service -- is still unpopular with most voters in this country. The administration has no interest in antagonizing a wide portion of the electorate in an election year.

It doesn't matter anyway, at least not to the president. All he cares about is his bid for re-election, and whether this latest stunt helps improve the turnout of Latino voters. It might. People get fooled, especially if they're not paying attention. In fact, I've realized that Obama's immigration record is most impressive to those who follow it least closely. In other words, the closer you follow the record, the less impressive it seems.

Overheard on CNN.com: Decision to defer some deportations symbolic

In the words of Ronald Reagan, the last president to actually grant an amnesty to illegal immigrants and not just talk about it, Latino voters, immigrant advocates and the DREAM'ers themselves should -- in response to this latest promise -- "trust, but verify." And, given the administration's record, they can skip the first part.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT