THE BLOG
09/16/2014 03:27 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2014

Whether in 2014 or 2016, Candidates Cannot Afford to Ignore Immigration

John Ritter

Imagine, for a minute, that you are a young American who fears losing an undocumented family member to deportation. You followed the immigration reform efforts of 2013 with hope, and you were thrilled to see a bipartisan bill pass through the Senate. When House Speaker John Boehner eventually killed all chances of reform passing through Congress in 2014, you were heartbroken. But you didn't entirely lose hope. You knew that President Obama had the legal authority to grant deferred action status to certain persons who had lived in the U.S. for years and who posed no threat to the public. Patiently, you waited for the president to act. And then he, too, delayed action on immigration reform.

Imagine that it is now September 2014, and you are about to meet the presumed leading presidential contender for the 2016 elections. She goes down a line of admirers, shaking hands and greeting attendees. As she draws near to meet you, you ask her one brief question -- why hasn't the president granted relief to families in fear of senseless deportation, and what does she think about his inaction?

Imagine your crushing disappointment in that leader when she fails to answer your question and instead gives a bland, dismissive response that you ought to vote in more members of the same party whose leader is currently ignoring your plight by delaying action on immigration solutions.

The scenario outlined above is not a hypothetical one. This Sunday, September 14, Hillary Clinton -- former first lady, former Democratic senator from New York, former secretary of state, and current favorite to receive the Democratic nomination for the 2016 presidential elections -- half-heartedly answered a DREAMer's question at a rally in Iowa. The 23-year-old woman, Monica Reyes, asked Clinton what she thought about President Obama's decision to delay urgently-needed executive actions on immigration until after the elections. Clinton initially remarked that "...we have to just keep working, can't stop ever working," but, when pressed further on the issue, ended the conversation by saying "Well, I think we have to elect more Democrats" and then exiting the scene.

Really?

Anyone who plans to win the presidency in 2016 had better get more serious than this. Latinos don't have some genetic coding that made them overwhelmingly vote for President Obama in 2012. Polling shows that Latino voters vote on issues, not on personalities. Polling also shows that Latinos are paying close attention to the immigration issue, and that they consider immigration reform -- and executive action by the president on immigration -- to be extremely important and urgently needed.

Secretary Clinton is not unique or alone in her vagueness and fence-sitting when it comes to properly engaging and addressing the Latino community. Every single candidate who thinks they are the most qualified person to lead the world's most powerful nation must tread a path directly through the Latino community.

"Vote for our side, we're the good guys"-type appeals are not going to cut it, particularly when your side has been ignoring the pressing needs of the community. The Latino electorate is as smart and savvy as every other electorate. It has interests, it follows the progress of those interests, it knows when it is being taken for granted, and it will vote for those candidates who display serious attention to its concerns.

Immigration reform is broadly popular with the American public and is a priority issue for Latino voters. If you and your party want to win the presidency in 2016 -- not to mention the Senate and House in 2014 -- why would you ever heedlessly dismiss it?