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Obama's double talk on DREAM Act

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
  • Ruben Navarrette: At Council of La Raza event, DREAM Act students confronted Obama
  • He says Obama contended law required deportations, whether he liked it or not, for DREAMers
  • He says Obama's officials brag about stepped up deportations to placate white voters
  • Navarrette: Young Hispanic students who want DREAM Act are tired of Obama's double talk

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist.

San Diego (CNN) -- It was something you don't see every day: the president of the United States being lectured by a group of self-declared illegal immigrants who were just out of puberty.

Is this a great country, or what?

This week, about a dozen undocumented high school students attended the National Council of La Raza annual conference in Washington and shouted truth to power by confronting the leader of the free world.

What lit the students' fuse was when Obama, in a luncheon speech, insisted that he just doesn't have the power to stop the deportations of so-called "DREAMers." The term refers to those undocumented students who might be eligible for legal status under the proposed DREAM Act if they attend college or join the military.

"Now, I swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books," Obama said. "But that doesn't mean I don't know very well the real pain and heartbreak that deportations cause. I share your concerns and I understand them. ...

"I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own."

That is when the applause erupted. Then came the chanting: "Yes, you can! Yes, you can! Yes, you can!"

Remarkable. These kids actually had the chutzpah to use Obama's campaign slogan against him. That's not very polite. But I love the imagery. I don't know whether to have them arrested, or take them out for ice cream.

The president finished his thought: "But that's not how -- that's not how our system works."

To which someone in the audience yelled out: "Change it!"

Oh, I like this bunch. Especially their attire. The students wore bright red T-shirts bearing the words: "OBAMA: STOP DEPORTING DREAMERS."

When Barack Obama ran for president, supporters -- touting his cool demeanor -- labeled him "no drama Obama." Well, thanks to the DREAMers, Obama had plenty of drama this week.

I was glad to see it. The president deserves a confrontation over his clumsy, dishonest, and self-serving handling of the combustible immigration issue. Since taking office, Obama has fed the immigrant reform community a steady diet of broken promises, blame-shifting and outright lies.

The game plan at the White House is simple but cynical: aggressively enforce immigration law by hook or by crook, rack up record numbers of deportations, and then have Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano brag about the results to those Americans who want the laws enforced.

For immigration restrictionists, there is a lot to brag about. Since taking office, the Obama administration has deported more than 1,000,000 illegal immigrants in the last two years.

Why do Americans want to see immigration laws enforced? It's not because of a respect for law and order. It's part of a futile attempt to reverse demographic changes that scare the daylights out of many Americans.

Here's the color scheme in the immigration debate: A black president is trying to reassure white voters by removing as many of the brown people as possible. It's ugly. But it's reality.

Yet, rather than acknowledge this strategy, Obama gives into his compulsion to portray himself -- on the immigration issue and others -- as kinder and gentler than Republicans.

The result is a stew of contradictions. Obama panders to Latino voters by criticizing the GOP for being too tough on immigration enforcement while pandering to non-Latinos by being even tougher. He assures Latino audiences that he still supports comprehensive immigration reform while refusing to force the issue in Congress.

He insists that that his administration is not concerned with removing hardworking people trying to feed their families -- a claim that might carry more weight if his administration weren't trying to remove hardworking people trying to feed their families. And he decries a broken immigration system that separates families -- while he goes about separating families by deporting undocumented parents and leaving their U.S.-born children in this country.

Nowhere are those contradictions clearer than when the discussion turns to the DREAM Act and those who could benefit from it. Obama really seems to struggle with this topic.

Consider what happened several months ago, when Obama sat down for a pair of interviews with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos. In the first interview, which took place during a trip to Central America, Obama claimed that his administration is not "going around rounding up students."

A few days later, in the second interview, which was part of a town hall meeting in Washington, Obama had to come clean. Confronted by a DREAM Act student holding a deportation letter, Obama had to admit that his administration is in fact deporting students because "America is a nation of laws, which means I, as the president, am obligated to enforce the law." He followed that up with more praise for DREAMers "whose talents we want to embrace in order to succeed as a country."

The DREAMers are fed up with Obama's double talk, and that is why they're confronting him. They've heard enough pretty words, and now they want hard action. Specifically, they want Obama to use the executive power of the presidency to stop the deportations of DREAM Act students.

I'd like to see that. But, for the sake of clarity, I'd be satisfied if Obama would just start being honest, reveal his intentions, and stop pretending to be something he's not.

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