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Cesar Vargas Headshot

Obama Legacy: Broken Families or Real Immigration Reform?

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The question of legacy confronts all second term presidents. President Obama's signature healthcare law, for example, will be of sensational academic interest to scholars. Other issues like immigration, however, will be assessed more intimately and immediately by those most affected. With legacy looming over a second term, the president can choose what legacy he will be remembered by the Latino electorate: a legacy of broken families by arbitrary deportation policies or a legacy of real reform of the nation's broken immigration system.

Last week, President Obama met with advocates to signal his "commitment" to immigration reform. In the meeting, advocates urged him to stop the deportations of low-priority immigrants with no criminal record. In other words, to halt and grant reprieve to the thousands of undocumented, hardworking parents and workers. President Obama refused to change his deportation policies, indicating such move would compromise deliberations in Congress.

While the president confronted one of the most obstructionist Congresses in history, far surpassing the inaction of the "do nothing Congress" that President Taft fought with constantly, he simply hasn't fought enough. Rather than standing up to Congress, we saw a president capitulate to the extreme right by proving he was tough on immigration at the expense of breaking up families. And as chief executive, he possesses the power to oversee and hold accountable an unruly agency.

Extremists, like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex), have already inked their pages in history as relics of a waning nativist era. On the other hand, President Obama last year changed policy that halted the deportation of undocumented youth -- or DREAMers, a move that gained him 71 percent of the Latino vote. A 12-year-old boy in Arizona who witnesses his father being handcuffed on his way to drop them off will never forget who was responsible for such policies. Neither will fifty thousand Latinos who will turn 18 every year and be eligible to vote.

The number of Latino voters will likely double over the next two decades. Latino voters will account for 40 percent of the growth in the U.S. electorate between now and 2030, increasing the number of eligible Hispanic voters from 23.7 million to 40 million. Yet, for these voters the president can only take credit for record number of deportations of families as well as a record budget allocated to immigration enforcement that outspends all other federal law enforcement, including the FBI, combined. In 2008, the president counted on the Latino vote promising to deliver immigration reform on the first year of his first term, which he failed to do.

In 2013, the president can solidify his legacy with Latinos by delivering on not only immigration reform, but also an enforcement policy that is intelligent, reasonable and accountable.