On Wednesday night, Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro made an appearance on Late Night With Seth Meyers.
At one point, Meyers asked Castro about the Obama administration’s immigration policy (a topic I asked him a few weeks ago on Latino Rebels Radio) and how it was problematic (hello, Deporter-in-Chief). In his answer, Castro explained how the Obama policy evolved over the years (perhaps because immigrant rights activists pushed him to act), but it was this part of Castro’s answer that needed to get highlighted:
“The other lesson that I think we learned from that administration was that when we have the chance, when we have the Democratic majority, because I think that on January 20, 2021 at 12:01 p.m., we’re going to have a Democratic President, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate… that what we learned is that from the 2009-2010 experience is don’t wait on immigration reform. We’re not going to wait this time. We’re going to push sensible immigration reform.”
Castro was referring to the time when President Obama was working with an all-Democratic legislative majority and did not follow through on one of his most vocal campaign promises of the 2008 election cycle.
Despite candidate Obama saying that passing comprehensive immigration reform needed to happen during his first term as President, it never happened. Even the Dream Act failed in the Senate. Obama defenders will always point that the first-term President could have never accomplished this, given the rise of the Tea Party, Republicans who betrayed him and the push for Obamacare.
However, Castro’s words to Meyers echo a real sentiment that has been part of the Latino community’s concern with Obama on immigration. Did President Obama do enough when he had the political capital in 2009-2010?
We will never know what would have happened if the Obama White House aggressively pushed for real CIR back then, but we do know that being critical of this time (as well as a continued immigration enforcement strategy that has laid the foundation for Trump) is important to bring up. Castro’s words contain some political truth. It might not translate into more urgency for 2020, especially with a Trump administration that shows no sign of any real work on immigration compromise and continues to dehumanize immigrants, yet it is still important to note that Castro is very aware of this Obama critique.
During the 2012 election cycle, Obama tried to explain back why he couldn’t deliver, placing the blame on Republicans who changed their mind. However, one cannot forget that when Obama ran in 2008, a lot of Latinos came back to Democrats. There was real hope for CIR to pass. That it would happen by 2010. It’s one of those issues that is complicated to many, and it didn’t help that at the time Rahm Emanuel was Obama’s Chief of Staff, the same Emanuel who as an aide to President Bill Clinton said that Clinton should get tough on immigration. Castro seems to be aware of that history. The question is simple: are 2020 voters aware as well? And do they even care?