Election 2012: Same-Sex Marriage Now, Immigration Policy Later?

President Barack Obama was pushed to take his “principled” stand after his gaffe-prone VP Joe Biden came out this week in support of same-sex marriage, as opposed to civil unions.  Mr. Obama told ABC’s Robin Roberts that his evolution on this political hot potato issue is due to not wanting to explain to his daughters that some Americans, such as same sex couples, aren’t allowed the same legal protections as everyone else.

Watch President Obama’s remarks supporting gay marriage here.

My question (plus free political and parenting advice) to President Obama is: what will you say to Sasha and Malia when they ask why an estimated 12 million people who live and contribute millions of dollar to the economy are treated unequally and in many cases, live in terror that at any moment, their families will be ripped apart when La migra picks up and deports mami or papi?

I was one of a select group of Latinos invited last week to the White House Cinco de Mayo celebration – a “holiday” exploited by alcoholic beverage companies and politicians alike to get a piece of the coveted Hispanic market or voter.  I heard President Obama rile up the audience by assuring us that he supports comprehensive immigration reform.  I heard him challenge congressional Republicans, not with the sword, but with the pen. If they approve and send him a DREAM Act that legalizes and puts college and military-bound illegal immigrant students on a path to citizenship, he will sign it.  Insert the crowd’s applause, sí se puede, four more years! (Read more about my experience at this event here.) 

Then the President pulled a mañana – Latinos, you will have to wait at least until “tomorrow” for immigration reform – again.  Although his support of same-sex marriage is largely symbolic, it burns through precious political capital (with passage of health care and financial reform legislation using up a fair amount).  Still, it is a shrewd political move months before the election intended to push likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney further to the right while shoring up support among once-fervent, yet increasingly-cool independents and young voters for whom homosexuality is a non-issue.  It also doesn’t hurt that one in six top “bundlers”, or those who have raked in more than $500,000 in campaign contributions to Obama 2012, are gays according to The Washington Post.

The Obama campaign is monitoring the polling, so it should come as no surprise that independent and young voters also support immigration reform.  They also have reviewed the 2010 Census data that confirms the demographic boom of the Latino community is driven by U.S. births, with 50,000 Hispanics turning 18 (aka the voting age) every month.

However, Obama 2012 must have also read the news reports that Hispanic voter registration and civic engagement is not on par with this community’s population growth.  Why?  Voters have not registered in their new towns where they moved prompted by a layoff or foreclosure in the recession the President inherited and the slow recovery over which he presided.  Others are new citizens and don’t understand the system.

But I also argue that many Latinos are turned off by a political system that makes them feel invisible.  The Republicans are offering Mitt “self-deportation” Romney who is “informally” advised by Kris Krobach, the intellectual author of Arizona and Alabama’s tough immigration laws.  Although the President has recalibrated federal immigration policy to favor deportations of violent felons and repeat crossers, record removals on Mr. Obama’s watch have snared thousands of non-violent undocumented immigrants – parents of U.S. citizen children, DREAMers, and others whose only offense is a broken car blinker.

Mr. Obama’s words, these promises of immigration reform, don’t match his actions: increased deportations with no “principled” line drawn in the political sand as he has done with same-sex marriage.  This is where the Latino advocacy community, like those in attendance at the White House Cinco event, must come in: hold your applause, your support, and your vote until the President stands and delivers.

Tell us: Do you think immigration reform will be addressed – either comprehensively or in parts such as a version of the DREAM Act – before the November Election?

Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief at The Wise Latina Club, is a Washington, DC-based Latina politics columnist. Read more of Viviana's political posts here.