Among Latinos, President Obama’s broken promise to fix the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system remains a bitter reminder of the limits of politics. The president shored up his support among that critical demographic with his DREAM Act Lite, a presidential directive that could give about a million young undocumented persons work permits for two years.
But the larger problem remains: Millions of people who hope to become American citizens, or at least documented residents, are stuck in a miserable shadow existence — unable to legally drive, work or fly. They are subject to exploitative bosses because they cannot complain about unsafe working conditions. They are victimized by brigands because they are afraid to report crimes to the cops. They dare not travel to their native countries because border patrols have tightened, and they may not be able to return. Many have family members who are American citizens and registered voters.
So it’s no wonder that Obama has set his sights on broad immigration reform in a second term. According to an interview with an Iowa newspaper, he pledged to turn first to a budget deal that would start to eliminate the deficit, and then to quickly pivot to legislation that would set illegal immigrants on a path to papers.
That should have happened long ago. Republican nominee Mitt Romney has tried to blame Obama for failing to keep his word even though he started his administration with a Democratic Congress. Romney knows better. The simple truth is that Republicans in the Senate set a high bar for any bill that passed: enough votes to overcome a threatened filibuster. And once Obama had managed to pass a stimulus bill and health care legislation, the GOP was determined to stymie any other accomplishments.
They had blocked immigration reform even under a Republican president. It wasn’t that long ago that George W. Bush, who had a decent relationship with Latinos as governor of a border state, tried to push through a deal that would have given illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship. At first, he had tepid support among a core group of Republicans in Congress.