In a presidential election where immigration reform remains a hot-button issue, President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney are both vying for the burgeoning Latino vote.
In a Univision-sponsored “Meet the Candidates” forum last week, Obama was pressed by moderator Jorge Ramos about his unkept campaign promises of 2008 regarding immigration reform. Ramos even went as far as to blatantly call out the president, saying, “A promise is a promise and with all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise.”
The peak of campaign season comes with even more intense scrutiny of what Obama did and didn’t do in his first term. In light of the Univision forum and the stringent, detrimental changes that Romney would bring to immigration if elected president, it is crucial for Latino voters to look beyond the black and white of fulfilled or unfulfilled campaign goals to focus on the positive progress that Obama has made in the last four years.
Admittedly, Obama was not totally successful in bringing the sweeping immigration reform Latino voters have been waiting for. The president himself accepted defeat during the Univision interview, conceding the lack of immigration reform was his “biggest failure.” This is not calling attention to his failure, but rather having the courage, on the most-watched Spanish language television network in the country, to be honest with Latino voters — a decision that indicates a genuine commitment to this voter base.
And though he has failed to do what he promised in 2008, this is not because of a lack of effort. Obama and congressional Democrats have been attempting to push immigration legislation through since the president entered office. They have made significant strides: Obama’s Deferred Action program went into effect on Aug. 16, allowing undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 who were brought illegally to the United States before age 16 to apply for work permits and live without the fear of deportation.
Though this program was successfully enacted, Obama’s past immigration reform failures can be attributed to deep partisanship in Congress. His main immigration legislation — the DREAM Act, which would give residency to undocumented immigrants who either enlisted in the military or enrolled in higher education — was filibustered by Republicans twice and failed to pass in 2010 as a result.
Romney’s immigration policy, on the other hand, enacts reform through punishment rather than amnesty. He pledges to veto the DREAM Act and advocates for stricter hiring laws in order to push undocumented immigrants to self-deport. Romney’s harsh immigration policy will only further alienate Latino voters, and during the Univision forum, he used Obama’s failures to avoid confronting this fact. Where Obama communicated with Latino voters openly and honestly, Romney bashed and evaded instead.
Without a doubt, only small steps have been taken these last four years toward the widespread immigration reform that the United States so desperately needs. Yet Obama has clearly established that he is committed to making further progress.
In an era of political flip-flops, commitment is what will bring the nation closer to widespread immigration reform: a commitment to going beyond a temporary fix, like the Deferred Action program, to a permanent solution, such as signing the DREAM Act into law; a commitment to pushing through bipartisanship and the rule of law to find solutions for the issues that matter; and a commitment to taking a first term foundation and turning it into a second term reality.
Daffany Chan is a freshman majoring in print and digital journalism. Point/Counterpoint runs Fridays.