Following the hour-long interview from the White House granted last September to The Huffington Post , MSN Latino and Yahoo en Español, President Obama has recently stepped up his efforts to connect with the Hispanic community, granting more interviews and answering Latino voters’ questions.
The Obama campaign’s latest moves reveal the White House’s realization that, as Charles Garcia explained last week in an Op-Ed, by replicating the strong Latino support of the 2008 election (67% of Latinos voted for Obama then), a Democrat candidate for the presidency may be able to win in states like Arizona, for the first time since Bill Clinton and before that, Harry Truman, as well as "Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and North Carolina” even "if he loses key swing states such as Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.”
At the same time, this new campaign tactic highlights the candidate’s concerns regarding sustained criticism among Hispanic leaders and activists for his failure to bring about comprehensive immigration reform which would have granted legal status and a path towards citizenship to many immigrants. Instead of bringing these concerns to a vote, Obama has focused on ratcheting up deportations and contributing to the drop of estimated undocumented immigrants in the U.S. from 12 million to less than 11 million.
These actions have been criticized by some leaders in the Latino community.
"The Obama Administration is responsible for the separation of thousands of families with children who are U.S. citizens,” wrote Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos in the latest issue of Time magazine, adding that "Obama has deported more immigrants--over 1.2 million--than any other President in history."
When Eddie Sotelo, the popular radio show host called "El Piolín,” recently asked Obama, "Thousands of families were separated because of these deportations, leaving their children alone in this country... do you believe you still have the support of the Hispanic community?" -- he was addressing one of the main obstacles to Latino votes that Obama faces come November.
"First of all, Piolin", said the President, who was interviewed on the same program in 2008, "My presidency is not over; I’ve got another five years and we'll get this done." He then switched to reciting unrelated achievements which he says benefit Latinos: "First of all fixing the economy...we made sure that unemployment insurance got extended... the housing settlement that we just passed... the work we've done on education… and more."
While the issue of immigration reform is not the primary concern for Latinos in the US -- t his dubious honor is reserved for jobs, the economy and education -- it is what differentiates this community from others and is a cause of deep anguish, as many Latinos have family members or close friends who either came illegally to this country or overstayed their visa. Nearly six-in-ten Latinos, in a 2008 Pew Hispanic Center survey, said they worried that they themselves or a family member, or a close friend may be deported.
“The only way we are going to get this done fully is by getting Congress to do its job,” said Obama about immigration reform to Piolin. He then enumerated recent steps his administration has taken, like emphasizing deportations of undocumented criminals and making it easier for some immigrants to apply for residency without having to go back to their countries of origin.
In a Radio Bilingue interview published this week, news director Samuel Orozco chose to first question the President about the tax break extensions, high Latino unemployment, and the rising cost of higher education.
Pretty soon, however, Obama's deportation policy came to the forefront of the discussion, along with the DREAM Act -- a federal initiative to grant legal status to some young undocumented students and soldiers.
"What can be done with the alarming and increasing number of children whose parents were detained or deported by ICE, and who are now in foster care or adoption?" asked Orozco.
"Our focus should be the criminals and predators of our communities, and this is where we have moved our efforts,” Obama replied.
As expected, the President called on Congress to approve the Dream Act and urged Latinos to participate in the political process.
So, although officially, Obama's team believes in a victory among Latinos because "the choice will not be that difficult", both interviews portrayed Obama's frustration with criticism from the Latino community for his role in increasing deportations.
"I would have only broken my promise if I hadn’t tried. But ultimately, I’m one man", he told Sotelo about his 2008 campaign promise to pass immigration reform in his first year in office, and then explained to the Latino audience: "You know, we live in a democracy. We don’t live in a monarchy. I’m not the king."