For Emma Lozano, President Barack Obama’s hosting his birthday bash in Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom—the same place, set in a heavily Latino community, where acts like Los Tigres del Norte sing pro-immigrant songs—was “a slap in the face” to Latinos, to whom he’s promised much but come up short. So Lozano and 400 others staged their own bash outside the theater, complete with giant cardboard cake, signs that read “Obama, Don’t Deport My Mama” and “Obama 2010: Most Deportation in US History” and chanting.
“He was celebrating his birthday, but we can’t do that with our families, because he’s separating our families,” said Lozano, co-chair of the pro-immigrant Familia Latina Unida and pastor of the Lincoln United Methodist Church.
The event was hardly the only one showcasing Latinos’ growing disappointment and impatience with Obama when it comes to immigration reform. While speaking at the National Council of La Raza’s annual conference in July, Obama was interrupted by some members of the 2,000-strong audience chanting “Yes You Can!” in response to his statement that he would not act unilaterally on immigration reform by signing an executive order to stop deportations, a move the immigration advocates like Congressman Luis Gutierrez have increasingly called for.
This week, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda gave Obama a “C” grade on issues important to Hispanics, with chairperson Lillian Rodriguez Lopez telling reporters that "immigration is clearly an area where we say Obama overpromised and under-delivered" and calling the last seven months “disastrous.”
While backlogs for legal immigration have reached an all-time high, deportations have as well—despite several reports saying that the border is more secure than ever, after massive build up of law enforcement forces, and that immigration from Mexico is at an all-time low.
The latest blow to pro-immigrant groups: The Dept. of Homeland Security’s decision to make the Secure Communities Program mandatory last week. The program enables federal authorities to use local and state databases to find and deport illegal immigrants with criminal records. But several states, including Illinois and Connecticut, have said that the program nets too many immigrants with no criminal record.
For Latino leaders like Lozano, recent events mean that Obama has been speaking with a forked tongue: telling Latinos he’s working on comprehensive immigration reform on one hand but failing to do so, as promised on the campaign trail, even when he had a majority in Congress, and then implementing policies and enforcement that hurt immigrants. “It’s like he’s working for Republicans,” Lozano says.
The numbers seem to bear out Latinos growing anger at Obama. A June Gallup poll shows that the President’s approval ratings among Hispanics have dipped from 73 percent in December 2009 to 52 percent.
What alternatives will Latinos have when it comes to electing a president? Come the 2012 elections, will Latinos, two-thirds of whom voted for Obama in 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, defect to the Republican party?
Laura Garza, Texas state director for the Latino conservative group Somos Republicans doesn’t think so, although with Texas Gov. Rick Perry—who Garza says “understands the Latino heart” likely entering the race, he holds out hope. “A month ago, given the choice between a lazy president who said he would help them and those who would round undocumented immigrants up and deport them because the Tea Party rhetoric had dominated the Republican Party, I would have said, they’ll stay with Obama,” Garza says. “Because it would be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.”
“But with the tea party’s agenda waning,” because of its intransigence during the debt crisis, he added, “the Republican Party may not be quite as repulsive as it was.”
Lozano disagrees. “Latinos feel so betrayed that I think they’ll just stay home,” she says.