President Barack Obama’s decision over the weekend to postpone issuing any executive orders aimed at extending legal status to millions of illegal immigrants left many Americans breathing a sigh of relief. The president’s liberal supporters who hoped that Obama would “go big,” however, appear alienated by his decision not to “go” at all.
“It’s incredibly frustrating, but not surprising,” MSNBC contributor and adjunct professor of public affairs at the University of Texas Austin, Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, told the hosts of Morning Joe on Monday. “We know that Latino patience has been worn very thin, and there are going to be implications here.”
She cited a poll by Latino Decisions which indicated that Democrats are going to take a hit from Hispanic voters as a result of this delay. “Over half of Latino voters said, ‘if executive action isn’t taken, we’re not going to be that enthusiastic to vote Democratic,’” she warned.
Her numbers sound apocalyptic for Democrats, but there are few corroborating sources that also indicate Hispanic voters’ most pressing concerns are centered on reforming the nation’s immigration system. A June Pew Research Center poll, for example, found that immigration was “extremely important” to only 34 percent of Latino respondents. That issue ranked behind health care (50 percent) jobs and the economy (54 percent) and education (55 percent) for Hispanics.
While DeFrancesco Soto’s observation about the growing Latino backlash may not be instructive of coming electoral trends, it is informative about the scope of liberal frustrations with Obama after he aborted his promise to extend legal status to millions of illegal immigrants.
Despite reportedly getting a heads up from the White House before this decision was announced, United We Dream Managing Director Cristina Jimenez issued a blistering statement condemning Obama’s punting of the issue until after the midterm elections.
“On June 30, President Obama stood in the Rose Garden and said, ‘If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours. I expect [Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice’s] recommendations before the end of summer and I intend to adopt those recommendations without further delay.’ DREAMers have held him accountable at every corner, but the president is more content playing politics with the lives of our families.”
Following the White House’s decision, the group posted a banner on their website denouncing the president. “President Barack Obama has further cemented his legacy as the #DeporterInChief,” the banner read. Activists warned that up to 70,000 more illegal immigrants may be deported before the president decides to extend legal status to the millions of undocumented residents living in the United States.
A statement from American Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry sounded the same note of disenchantment.
“We are bitterly disappointed in the president and we are bitterly disappointed in the Senate Democrats … We advocates didn’t make the reform promise; we just made the mistake of believing it. The president and Senate Democrats have chosen politics over people; the status quo over solving real problems.”
“He raised the hopes of people and he dashed them again,” National Council of La Raza Deputy Vice President Clarissa Martinez said. “We’re deeply disappointed. This is just another on the list of hurry up and wait that our community has experienced on this issue.”
Liberal Hispanic lawmakers joined progressive immigration activists in expressing their dissatisfaction with Obama.
“It’s clear that playing it safe is what is going on in the White House and among Democratic circles, and playing it safe means walking away from our values and our principles,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).
“I’m deeply disappointed that he president hasn’t acted where Republicans have failed to act,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) echoed.
Even the key liberal labor group Service Employees International Union issued a mild condemnation of the president. “Today, we are deeply disheartened that the dreams of hard-working immigrant families who have long contributed to the fabric of the American life remain in jeopardy,” an SEIU statement read. “The White House’s decision to delay executive action forces countless families to continue to wait in the shadows of fear.”
It is not merely liberal organizations who are frustrated by administration’s failure to advance immigration reform via executive order. “Inaction is not a strategy, neither for Congress nor the executive branch,” wrote Bruce Mehlman, George W. Bush’s assistant secretary for technology policy at the Commerce Department. “While this remains unresolved, the U.S. continues to educate and then kick out highly-skilled workers who want to contribute to our economy.”
Though not exclusively, the majority of those who are despondent over the delay of an immigration order are liberal activists. The wounds may heal between today and November 4, but some of the Democrats’ most energetic activists may just decide to sit on their hands in the autumn if these scars prove too painful to forget. The president’s political calculation is, however, probably a smart one; vulnerable Democrats in red states appealing to a Republican electorate are better served in 2014 by leaving the immigration issue unresolved.