Skip to main content

Will Obama's immigration initiative sway Latinos?

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
updated 5:44 PM EDT, Fri June 15, 2012
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
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT