The tenure of the nation’s first African-American president has been met with a wide variety of critiques and praises from the diverse ethnic groups that call America home. Presidential success is often gauged by the ability to compromise and enhance the status quo of the ethnic groups that make up our great nation in troubling and difficult times. Often, these status quo have often been challenged by public policies that could potentially hamper or enhance the fundamental beliefs that govern our democratic ideals. Center to President Barack Obama critique is his relationship with the Hispanic population; a community that has pledged their electoral allegiance to him witnessed in both presidential elections. Obama’s political genius, sincerity, creative wit, and socratic appeal instantly forged a love affair with Hispanics.
The Obama’s campaign team understood the changing Hispanic demographic trends, its implications, political importance, and more importantly how to secure their electoral loyalty. This loyalty not only became a political weapon in 2008 presidential election, but in 2012, the Hispanic vote again dictated who would become the leader of the free world. The aim of this publication is neither to condemn nor praise the president’s policies but to remind many of us of the unfounded loyalty that existed between Hispanics, President Barack Obama, and the tragic cost of achieving those presidential democratic ideals.
We must be vigilant of the Hispanic political culture which can be traced in the United States for over 500 years, when California, Mexican states, Florida and the Southwest were discovered by Spanish explorers. Hispanic culture and political influence flourished well before the Founding Fathers envisioned the idea of securing their independence from Britain in 1776. Not only did Hispanic political culture help shape and define America’s early political landscape, but it also has played an important role in helping to secure the birth of the new republic: America. Without their political presence this feat may have been impossible. Hispanic political power and impact continued with the election of President James Polk in 1844 and his future policy of annexation of Texas. It was the Hispanic voters that also played an important role in the election of the nation’s first Irish-Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, and his continued policies under the auspices of Lyndon B. Johnson; the Viva Kennedy Club. Hence, my point is simply, Hispanic political influence have always been part of the American political process, yet their allegiance has never been met with the deserved accolades and merits.
Fast forward to the 21st century, America’s first African-American president, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the election and re-election of the President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 was primarily due to the Hispanic vote. Without the Hispanic communities political support this monumental, historic achievement and everlasting legacy of the nation’s first African-American president would not have been possible. Despite their committed support, many of the president’s Hispanic promises went unfulfilled and at times their allegiance-loyalty has been taken for granted. With the recent demographic change in the 21st century, Hispanics have become the cornerstone of country’s socio-economic, cultural, and political power. Their presence has slowly but surely Hispanicized America. The president’s campaign slogan “Yes We Can” stemmed from the famed watch words of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta who coined the term “Sí, se puede” in the 1972. During the farm workers strike this phrase immediately struck a blossoming relationship within the Hispanic community. It was the Hispanic vote that ultimately defined the new change in America, his presidency, and the leader of the free world. Despite the vast prosperity and economic turnaround associated with President Obama’s tenure, his presidency will always be judged by the courting of the Hispanic vote and his pledge to secure unfulfilled promises, most notably Comprehensive Immigration Reform. One must not forget that then Senator Barack Obama coined “La Promesa de Obama” referencing to his commitment in his 2008 campaign to make immigrant reform his top priority.
President Obama’s immigration policy revolved around his promise to Hispanics, that he would “guarantee” an immigration bill within the first year in office.
The politics of immigration has never been so divisive and controversial that it has brought the worst out of us, what we stand for, and what we can become as a nation of immigrants. Often referred to as the new Americans or those who we blatantly call undocumented immigrants after President Obama’s failed attempts at keeping his pledge. His promise regarding immigration reform became the watchwords of the Hispanic community due to the fact that many immigrants saw him as Moses leading the people the promise land. Never in American history has immigration been such a divisive issue where policymaking and the electoral process go hand in hand.
Very few understand the political importance of the Hispanic vote. As a result of President Obama’s tainted relationship within the community there will be a long-term effect as both political parties seek to win the ever important and defining Hispanic vote in future elections. Both Democrats and Republicans political parties have acknowledged the importance of the Hispanic vote. In the future, how they approach to the new voting sector must be in cautious and sensitive manner. Due in part to the unfounded voting loyalty, both political parties and their lack of commitment on the delivery on many of their Hispanic campaign promises results will ultimately become a stumbling block for future elections and their potential presidential candidates. In 2008, then Senator Obama secured some approximately 67 percent of the Hispanic vote which ultimately propelled him the nation’s highest office. Despite the overreaching immigration promise, his entire first term as Commander-in-Chief whisked away without any conscious effort to neither seek legislation nor fulfill the promise he made during his presidential campaign.
The “Browning of America” has generated many divisions in our society that immigration reform has become the new “Civil Rights debate of 21st Century.” During the 2012 re-election, President Obama again secured Hispanic loyalty, ultimately carrying 70 percent of their vote in an overwhelming victory. Within days of his triumph, he reached out to Hispanic activists and other supporters to assure them that he planned to make immigration reform his first priority during the second tenure of his presidency. According to the president “the second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I’ve cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.” Yet despite his promise of immigration reform and his commitment towards the Hispanic community, his public policies and promises went un-fulfilled and the nation’s first African-American president was labeled “Deporter in Chief.”
Never in American history has a president abused his immigration and deportation powers as President Obama did during his presidential reign, consequently his commitment towards a sensible and secure immigration reform policy became the elephant in the room. No other time in our country’s great history has a debate on immigration divided a nation as it has recently done, leaving us searching for an American identity as to who we are and what we stand for as a nation of immigrants. During his tenure as President of the United States, from 2009 through 2015, Obama’s administration removed some 2.5 million people dictated by his immigration orders.
In fact, Obama’s deportation policies surpassed that of then President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policies from 1929-39 where an estimated 1 million Mexicans, majority of whom were legal residents or U.S. citizens were illegally deported back to Mexico. This mass deportation often lost in American history was known as the Mexican Repatriation policy which as aimed at cleansing America’s ill. Fast forwarding to President Obama’s policies, not only did he removed criminals, which is great for America, but at the same time it appeared as though he deliberately separated families with long standing roots in America. His policies of breaking up and removing families who have established their socio-cultural roots here is un-American, unconstitutional, and it is not what we stand for as a country that preaches democracy, tolerance, diversity, and acceptance. It is also important to note that then Senator Barack Obama in 2005 voted for the building of the border wall which later became foundation of the immigration debacle and protests throughout the country. That wall became the foundation of the 2016 presidential debates which ultimately saw the election of Donald J. Trump, a foundation based on hate and bigotry, overlapped by President Obama’s inability to fulfill many of his Hispanic promises. President Obama’s failed immigration policies will be the cornerstone on his tainted relationship with Hispanics and will ultimately define his legacy with a community that placed their loyalty in his hands.
When polled in 2009, Hispanics saw economic empowerment as their top priority for the new administration, a community that has been historically exclude, denied, and oppressed from the American pie. Despite making up approximately 17 percent of the U.S. population according to the 2015 US Census Bureau report, Hispanics account for almost 25 percent of the nation’s poverty. What is more alarming is that poverty under Obama’s administration for Hispanic kids peaked at a staggering 37 percent, this highest of any level among ethnic groups and under any presidential administration. In fact, many of these young Hispanic children are living in conditions equivalent to that of third world countries, in America!
According the U.S. Census Bureau’s economic report in 2014, under President Obama’ tenure the percentage of Hispanics in poverty increased from 23.2 percent to 23.6 percent from 2008 to 2014. According to the same report, some 10.9 million Hispanics lived below the poverty line in 2008 when Barack Obama was sworn in as Commander–in-Chief, while in 2014 some 13.1 million Hispanics were still languishing in poverty, an increase of approximately 2 million residents. Nevertheless, one must be cautious on how we interpret these Census Bureau statistics given the fact that we were in economic recessions second to that of the great depression. According to a report by the Pew Research Center in 2011, the largest single decline in wealth of any ethnic and racial group in America during the recession belonged to Hispanics. With Obama’s economic turnaround package, Hispanics along with African-Americans saw their wealth and net worth decreased 4 times more than their white counterparts. This continued downward spiral now accounts for the largest wealth disparities in the 25 years since the US Census Bureau has been collecting data. It’s important to note that Wall Street was bailed out of the economic recession yet black and brown streets remained embedded in the economic struggle.
President Obama’s famed Affordable Healthcare Act, often termed “Obamacare” had 3 primary goals: to make affordable health insurance available to more Americans, expand Medicaid programs to cover all adults, and to support innovative medical care delivery methods designed to lower the costs of health care generally. The Unites States is a society with vast wealth and prosperity, its healthcare system has often been termed the Rolls Royce of the developed world. Yet, at the same time there is an association between healthcare outcomes and treatment that are specifically tied to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. The way we administer and provide health care have always been along racial and socio economic terms, Hispanics who fall into these groups tend to be more at risk to the disparities due to the lack of access of quality services as many of their white counterparts.
These disparities may take shape in all forms in the medical profession and diseases including but not limited to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, HIV, and other illness continue to plague communities that do not have access to quality medical education and treatment. Despite this great promise of universal healthcare, NBC news concluded that Hispanics have become a significantly growing share of adult Americans with no health insurance despite gains in coverage after passage of the Affordable Care Act. About a third of the nation’s uninsured are Hispanics, though the number of Americans without health insurance has decreased by 20 million since 2010, Hispanics without coverage has grown from 29 percent in 2013 to 40 percent in 2016, while other ethnic groups without coverage has declined from 50 percent in 2013 to 41 percent in 2016 according to the report.
The Census Bureau concluded that just under 30% of Hispanics households lacks healthcare under the Obama’s administration, when compared to African-Americans who showed a 50% higher rate of their 19% lack of healthcare coverage and nearly triple the white rate of 11%. Harmed by future skyrocketing premiums, lack of understanding of the program, and immigration status, coverage among Hispanics has been waning since the inception of the famed ACA program. Transparency, language barriers, and cultural mistrust in the program has led to fear of governmental intrusion and invasion of their privacy. In fact, states with overwhelmingly Hispanic population suffered from the ACA mistrust, New Mexico for example with some 47% of its population being Hispanic witnessed only a few thousands signed up for the program in its first few months.
In a diverse country as ours, it is always difficult to assess the success of any president, gains in economic growth, domestic policy, and foreign policy have been the gauge we use to define any presidency. Given the gains made during the economic turmoil and the pace of recovery, there still lies numerous fundamental paradoxes of Obama’s presidency. I often reminded that he is the president of all Americans, yet I often wonder if Hispanics are included in that phrase of all Americans.
Stephen Balkaran, is currently an Instructor of Philosophy at Central Connecticut State University.