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Cheer the President, Boo His Motives

Cheer the President, Boo His Motives

Photo: Obama on Deportations

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The decision made by the Obama administration this week to focus its deportation efforts on serious threats to national security should be applauded by Latinos and progressives alike. It seems that President Obama has finally expressed his support for the Latino base that helped elect him in 2008.

Yet, while the administration’s policy shift will provide relief for tens of thousands of undocumented citizens unjustly living in fear of deportation, I find it unfortunate that the decision was made for political reason rather than on its moral merit.

The night Obama was elected president one chilly November night, I smoked a celebratory cigar with friends at an Election Day party. His presidency, I hoped, would bring to fruition all the changes America had promised but never delivered on – extended health care, the end of two wars, the reinstatement of constitutional rights, the closing of Guantanamo and other places like it around the world, a more equitable education system, and fair immigration reform. To date, his administration has fulfilled only one of those campaign promises; in addition to his appalling lack of leadership, the blame can be placed on stubborn opposition and Democratic malaise.

More deportations have occurred annually under the Obama administration than occurred during the Bush years. The current intensity of deportation would be shocking to most people if they weren’t so accustomed to it. Here again we see President Obama making a Machiavellian decision based primarily on its political outcome rather than on its principle. He wants to appease the opposition, so he does what they would have him do – deport illegal Mexicans and people who look like them. Regrettably, President Obama’s willingness to satisfy the demands of the Republican opposition has made him tougher on immigration than his conservative predecessor. Simply put, when it comes to immigration, President Obama is no different than a Republican.

The President’s aura began fading among progressives and Latinos in the spring of 2010, as we witnessed him offer concession after concession to the far right. It seemed the President had forgotten us, the people who elected him as their leader. The economy was hobbling along, and the President didn’t want to expend too much political capital by tackling ambitious reforms. That’s somewhat understandable; politicians do have to be political. He couldn’t have known that the Democrats would lose the House of Representatives to the Republicans in November 2010. Would he have foreseen it, he might have pushed forward with his reforms while both houses of Congress were under Democratic control. Now, we’ll never know.

President Obama’s current approval rating remains relatively high among progressives, but that’s by default; I mean, who else are they going to vote for? His popularity among Latinos, however, is wavering, prompting the opposition to begin wooing over members from this politically pivotal community. Unlike most social groups in America, Latinos don’t actually have a political party between the two major ones that clearly represents their interests. Candidate Obama promised to represent the Latino community in the White House, but President Obama has deported more undocumented Latinos than any president in recent decades. The Republican Party has begun courting Latinos, because since the most recent Republican president was softer on immigration than the current Democratic president, voting for the Republicans doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea to a lot of Latinos.

If both parties are offering similar promises, but the Republicans align more closely with the social conservatism that most Latinos practice, the Democrats can do little to keep Latinos from voting for the Republicans next year – that is, of course, unless the President demonstrates that he supports Latino causes.

And that is what President Obama has done with his recent policy change on deportation. He has made the distinction between deporting dangerous criminals and deporting Latinos. Now the Latino community has a tangible reason for reelecting him next year, instead of just a theoretical one.

With the move, the President is hoping that the Republicans will politically bankrupt themselves when they argue that no distinction should be made between dangerous criminals and Latinos. Then the Latino community will see clearly that the Republican Party does not have the community’s best interests in mind. The Republican Party is not just the President’s opposition; it also opposes – on a fundamental level – the Latino community, as well. For the most part, Republicans and Latinos don’t want the same things.

As a Latino, I thank the President for finally doing the right thing, no matter how little or how late his action comes. But I will not forgive his motives for doing so. He has done something good for Latinos simply to garner the Latino vote next year, not because it was the right thing to do in the first place.

I plan on voting to reelect the President next year, as the overwhelming majority of Latinos should do. But I think it’s important we understand just what kind of person we’ll be reelecting.

Today’s contributor is Hector Luis Alamo, Jr. Hector is a freelance writer and community activist of Honduran-Puerto Rican descent living in Chicago. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his departmental concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. In 2007 he co-founded an online blog, YoungObservers, and has remained its main contributor. Since 2010 he’s been the Opinions editor for the Chicago Flame, and he also contributes periodically for Examiner.com as its Chicago City Buzz Examiner. He is currently working on his first book.