Why Does the White House Continue to Play Political Games with U.S. Latino Voters?

Sep 17, 2014
12:17 PM

I am fully aware that by the time I finish writing this piece and you will finish reading it, some will a. accuse me of working for neo-nativist Republican Rep. Steve King (not true) or b. tell me I have no brain and that I should step in line or else I am I just promoting Latino voter apathy (so not true). Such is the price one pays when you try to try to go beyond the pre-packaged talking points so neatly prepared by political parties and regurgitated by the masses because, hey, that’s what the modern American world is about: here is the message, embrace it, don’t question it and keep it down.


This is exactly what is happening just two weeks after President Obama spoke with NBC’s Chuck Todd on September 6. When Todd asked the President why he has now decided to back off a June 30 vow on immigration (“While I will continue to push House Republicans to drop the excuses and act — and I hope their constituents will, too — America cannot wait forever for them to act.” and “I’m beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.”), this is the answer the President gave him: blame it on the rise of unaccompanied minors coming into the United States from Central America.

The truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem. I want to spend some time, even as we’re getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we’re doing this, why it’s the right thing for the American people, why it’s the right thing for the American economy.

Such comments led to (and I am putting it mildly), serious outrage from the immigration world I cover as a journalist and opinion writer. And while others have already written about the President’s shameful politicking when it comes to a refugee crisis, the White House —maybe fully aware that the decision would infuriate politically engaged Latinos— has begun to paint a different picture that would contradict the President’s September 6 statements and suggest that the White House truly doesn’t care about rallying a devoted base (campaigning 101: when you want to get out the vote, you play to win, not play to avoid losing) in the midterms.

Exhibit A: Just five days after Obama’s comments to Todd, this news broke: “Obama administration sharply reduces number of deportations.” Anyone who follows the U.S. Latino community knows that the moniker “Deporter in Chief” has become an embarrassing stain on Obama’s “Sí se puede” mythology. Yet here was the data to tone down that notion. The Obama administration was finally stepping away from the removal “of more than 2.1 million immigrants.” (Sidenote: the figures from Syracuse’s nonpartisan TRAC system provide more data that should also be examined along with official DHS stats.) Such a “victory” would counter the midsummer politics shift the President was suggesting. Statistics the White House could parade out to the world, and have another high-profile interview with Todd on this news. (“Chuck, I am listening to what the Latino community is telling me. I know that my administration’s actions have separated countless of families. I agree, the American people agree, that this just needs to stop.”) That interview, of course, would never happen, because in the end, the President would be seen as “soft” on border security from Republicans, and such messaging will make fearful Democrats even more fearful. And why actually get a key part of your base hopeful about this news? Play to avoid losing, don’t play to win.

Exhibit B: This past Monday, the White House published a blog post from Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. According to Kerlikowske:

The President and his Administration responded with an aggressive, coordinated Federal response focused on stepped up deterrence, enhanced enforcement, stronger foreign cooperation, and greater capacity for affected Federal agencies to ensure that our border remained secure. As a result, and as Secretary Jeh Johnson reported last week, the number of Central American migrants trying to illegally cross the Southwest border continues to decline including unaccompanied children and families.

This is good news. We are not declaring victory, and we aren’t going to take our foot off the gas; U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) remains prepared. We will remain vigilant and continue to aggressively work to deter future increases and address the influx on both sides of the border with our Central American partners.

In case you want to see that progress, Kerlikowske added these charts:



He also wanted to remind us about this:


And this:


Finally, Kerlikowske tell us:

But unfortunately, we’ve had to do all of this without any help from Congress. After failing to pass an immigration reform bill, in late July Congress refused to authorize additional resources requested by the President to manage this most recent influx while keeping our border secure. And as a result, DHS has had to shift resources away from enforcement activities in lower priority areas to surge resources to the border. Support for this strategy and the DHS Secretary’s supplemental request —including efforts to support deterrence efforts— remains critical to managing this humanitarian situation now and achieving longer-term progress in stemming the flow of Central American migrants in the future.

Now without getting into the historical and political issues behind the “surge” of unaccompanied minors, wouldn’t you think that all this data from Kerlikowske, published nine days after President Obama told Todd that “the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem,” would be exactly the information the White House would like the publicize even more? If the White House wants to show that it is succeeding with the unaccompanied minor crisis, why limit such news to a blog post? Wouldn’t this type of information be helpful to fight how Republicans have falsely portrayed the crisis? Couldn’t they use this information to fight back ridiculous Republican rhetoric? More data to get your base excited for the midterms?

Play to avoid losing, instead of playing to win.

Meanwhile, the spinning from the White House and the core of Obamaístas is being manufactured 24/7, especially since it’s Hispandering Heritage Month.

The new allegation from the Obamaístas is that undocumented activists all over the country are telling Latinos to not vote this November. When pressed for actual specifics about who is telling people to not vote, little gets shared or revealed. Having read countless of articles and tweets about this matter (it’s getting ugly out there, by the way), this is the only statement I could find about specifically urging Latinos to not vote:

Obama’s latest political game demonstrates clearly that the Democratic Party is choosing to fight for another potentially fruitless term in office at the expense of our lives and families. In Arizona, we have learned that our community’s bravery far surpasses that of any elected official. With the announcement of the President’s cowardly delay on immigration relief, our support for the Democratic Party cannot be taken for granted. Without affirmative relief for our families, we are calling for a boycott of the vote. We cannot support a party that is destroying our families.”
Carlos Garcia, Puente Arizona

One organization. One opinion. (UPDATE, September 20, 2014: Prominent DREAMer activist told NBC News the following: “We’re not doing anything like that this year [meaning voter registration]. I think it’s very troubling for us to go out and ask people to vote.”)

Instead, I read more that Latino voters are frustrated, not enthused and are done with the politics of both Democrats and Republicans. Young Latino voters are walking away from Democrats because of the Obama administration’s deportation record. Which would make sense if you begin to realize that 51% of U.S. Latino voters considered themselves independent in a 2012 poll.

But, the Obamaístas tell you, Latinos don’t vote. They’re apathetic. They don’t understand the political process. They are being manipulated. They are not smart, perceptive or intelligent. This is the United States, not Latin America. They are allowing Obama to be controlled by Republican messaging. We must help save our President, they tell us.

Even Dolores Huerta is telling Latino voters to wait.

We have to look at the big picture and don’t get caught up in saying we want it now. We’ve been waiting—we are a community that can wait. And we have to have faith in our president, because the Republicans have shown their hand. We know what they want to do.”

All that type of critique is insulting. Latinos are more informed than you think. Politicians know that any election is about mobilizing your base, getting the electorate excited. Democratic leaders have made their decision and that’s fine. However, a September 8 Latino Decisions poll asks this very simple question: “Did Dems miss an opportunity for Latino mobilization?” The short answer: yes. The long answer: Latino voters have been getting played for years. Basta ya.


Then there is this:

Such insight is very likely the reason why someone like Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) said this in a September 16 story:

It makes the job harder for me to generate enthusiasm among Americans to vote at all, let alone enthusiasm for voting for Democrats when there are members of my own party asking the president to hold his pen and his phone in abeyance until after voters vote.

But hey, we Latinos have to be patient. We have to wait. Let’s register voters (a good thing) and get out the vote (much harder to do when people aren’t excited). Sure, that is noble and necessary and sends a message to both parties that U.S. Latinos numbers are growing, but I still believe that the President’s political games with immigration are currently out-trumping the prospect of a all-GOP Senate. People will still vote, but to assume that they should vote for the party that they have been dating for years but continues to break your heart because you know… evil Republicans… just doesn’t cut it any more. Democrats have lost that message a long time ago when it comes to immigration. Imagine if they actually fought back when they had the chance.

Politically engaged Latinos have every right to express their own opinion, to think they way they want to think, to question and challenge why the White House and certain factors of the Democratic party would rather detain and separate Latino immigrants than work tirelessly and with conviction to do the right thing.

Add to the fact that the White House continues to send mixed messages about immigration narratives (see Exhibits A and B), and you wonder why more and more Latinos aren’t so into Obama these days.

With all due respect to Huerta and others who are lecturing those to wait and not rock the boat because it could provide catastrophic results for U.S. Latinos, all we have done is “wait.” 2007. 2008. 2009. 2010. 2012. 2013. And now 2014. How much more waiting is needed?

In the end, the White House has decided (once again) to not “grow a backbone” when it comes to immigration and anyone who raises this issue (hello, Congressional Hispanic Caucus) gets sent to the corner. Being told to go and vote for the Democrats after another broken promesa when the White House is trying (once again) to sweep immigration under the rug is not getting people excited. In addition, blaming the angry Republicans constantly is like saying your dog ate your homework again and again and again.

Latinos will likely vote during the coming midterms and they might even make a difference in certain Senate races (Colorado, North Carolina and Kansas come to mind), but the majority of Latinos I know will vote with their conscience and not because one party is not as awful as the other one. Last time I checked, votes are earned not expected.

If that is idealistic and out of touch with the brutal politics of elections, good. Let the strategists slam me because that’s their job (hence the term “paid operatives”). Tell me I am just killing any chance of Obama passing immigration reform. It’s only been six years and counting, and everyone knows that after a certain point, only fools will deny that we are on never-ending journey that so far shows no clear direction or resolution.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. A 1990 Harvard graduate in the History and Literature of Latin America, his personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the NationNPR,  Univisionand The New York Times. Recently, he was a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream.