Since the 2010 elections, much has been said about the growing importance of the Latino vote, an inexorably rising segment of the American electorate. The Latino electorate is growing in mostly blue states and President Obama captured greater than 70 percent of the Latino vote in 2012. Meanwhile, over the last four years, support for legislative action on immigration reform has intensified among Latino voters and support for executive action on behalf of immigrants is equally as high. Still, some Democrats have blocked the Latino community from getting what it desperately wanted; immediate, though temporary, relief and protection for immigrant workers and families.
President Obama's decision on September 6th to delay using executive action for immigrants brought to a close a relatively quiet campaign among Democratic Party elites to get the Administration to walk back its pledge to act by summer's end. The delay was driven by fear stoking voter backlash in Senate battleground states. But underlying the President's belief among some influential party elites that measures that directly benefiting immigrants and Hispanics are too divisive and unsettling; a more evergreen concern likely to live on past this political season and stall progress.
The legislative battle over immigration reform in many ways has brought to the surface the concerns and anxieties that the American public have with demographic change in the country. Some pundits have put the pieces together and noted that we are in the midst of a great debate over the future of our country and that the immigration debate is just the vehicle or proxy for that sensitive conversation. In light of this, both political parties will be defined by a choice about how best to navigate through the troubled waters of race/ethnic inclusion; to cultivate a party brand that embraces cultural diversity or one that resists it.
Despite strong support for Democrats among immigrant, Latino, and minority voters, the commentary surrounding the President's decision to delay executive action confirm that some influential leaders in the Democratic Party are just as uncomfortable with immigrants as Republicans. Ironically, the storyline of the 2014 election has boiled down to a battle for white votes in southern states.
The fact that operatives and lawmakers in both political parties have expressed great concern and fear of taking steps that may anger white male voters is an important clue. If anyone wondered why the Congress has achieved so little in recent years they should look no further. In placing the fears of white men above other considerations, some Senate Democrats are now complicit in turning this election into a fight for the status quo.
Looking ahead, the Congress will continue to produce very little for Latinos or advance any social change so long as both political parties cater to the will of voters fearful and anxious about demographic change and effectively voting to return the country to the past. Though considerably better for Democrats, diversity levels are abysmal in both parties and it's likely that up and down the line very few political operators, campaign managers, and strategists have any meaningful peer relationships with immigrants.
The President may act after the election to provide temporary protection to immigrants. In doing so the President may be less acting to bypass a dysfunctional Congress unable to pass immigration reform legislation, but rather acting to transcending a broken political system trapped in its own institutional biases and unable to stop itself from systematically sorting and separating out immigrants from our society and treating them as sub-human.
For Latinos we should take great care to recognize that our political institutions are built for a time now past when the country was much more culturally homogeneous. This does not mean, however, that all is lost. Instead, once we realize that the playing field is not level, we must make it level. We have the numbers. We have the power to change the outcomes of countless elections -- no matter the cycle.