As a young progressive Latino studying ethnic relations at the University of Illinois-Chicago, no one was more ecstatic than I when in 2008, Barack Obama – Chicago’s hometown hero touted as Lincoln incarnate – became the first Black president of the United States. It seemed like the idyllic end to eight years of what many were criticizing as the most conservative period in American politics in decades. For an overwhelming majority of Latinos, who voted for the young Illinois politician by a margin of two-to-one, his promise to push for immigration reform legislation during his first year in office was the object of immense jubilation within the community.
Then the deepest recession since the 1930s hit the nation in 2008. By the time the newly-elected president took office in January 2009, the country had lost 2.6 million jobs and unemployment had climbed to 7.6 percent, up 2.7 points since the previous January. The financial crisis passed on by his predecessor forced the untested leader to dedicate much of his first year in office to steering the nation away from the precipice of a depression, and so the plans for immigration reform were shelved.