Latino Community Worries Obama Could Fall Short of Expectations

The president must balance expectations with political reality.

The Latino community is tired of waiting on President Obama to stem the tide of deportations. They waited for him to finish his first term. Then, they waited until the end of this summer. With Democrats worried about how immigration would play politically, the Latino community waited once again for the midterms to be over. Now, they say, there is no excuse to wait any longer.

On Wednesday, Obama defiantly promised he'd make moves on immigration reform before the end of the year if Congress continued to abstain from legislative action, but he did not offer what his plan would look like. Some reports before the election suggested Obama was going to offer a scaled-back package that would help roughly 3 million immigrants. That, Latino advocacy groups say, is not enough.

"That would fall way short," says Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, a deputy vice president at the National Council of the La Raza, a group that advocates for progressive policies on immigration reform.

Advocates argue that the Senate's bipartisan bill, which stalled out in the House, would have provided relief for roughly 8 million immigrants. They want to see a proposal from the president that is at least as bold as that.

"The bigger the number, the bigger the benefit the country will derive," Martinez-De-Castro says.

Latino advocacy groups are demanding Obama stop deportations for millions of immigrants, from family members of "Dreamers," individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally, to those without any family ties to the U.S.

"We want our parents, our neighbors, and members of the LGBT community to be fully included in this package," says Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, the deputy managing director of United We Dream. "The president has no excuse. This is a political decision. He has the authority, and we are demanding that he use it. "

Obama is now caught between two factions: the Latino community to whom he promised deportation relief for the last six years of his presidency, and the Republican-controlled Congress he must appease now if he wants to cement his legacy in his two final years in office.

The president said Wednesday that he still preferred to see congressional action, and that even if he moved forward without it, his executive actions would be overturned as soon as Congress sent him a bill he could sign.

"If they want to get a bill done, whether it's during the lame duck or next year, I am eager to see what they have to offer," Obama said. "What I'm not going to do is just wait."

Already, the face of the new Republican Senate majority, Mitch McConnell, has warned Obama to back off his pledge to halt deportations without Congress.

"I think the president choosing to do a lot of things unilaterally on immigration would be a big mistake," McConnell said Wednesday during a press conference. "It's like waving a red flag in front of a bull."

McConnell says immigration reform is something his members want to tackle legislatively. Even before the election, Republican Party elder Mitt Romney said if his party won, the country could count on congressional Republicans to have a plan to secure the border and address the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.

Yet, the immigrant community says that Republicans already had their opportunity to act in 2013 when the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill. House Republicans refused to take it up, and they never proposed their own alternative.

"We have lost trust big time in Congress and their ability to do anything. I think we have waited enough," says Erika Andiola, a Dreamer and codirector of the DREAM Action Coalition. "The urgency is real. The Republicans are going to attack the president no matter what—whether it is 1 million or 11 million—so the president might as well change some lives."

House Speaker John Boehner, however, didn't mince words when articulating what Obama's executive action would mean for the fate of immigration reform in his chamber.

"There will be no chance for immigration reform moving in this Congress," Boehner said.