Latino Groups Offer Guarded Support for Immigration Proposal

After being burned before by White House promises of action, immigration groups await a real—not leaked—proposal.

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Photograph by rickpilot_2000/Flickr

National Latino groups are reacting with limited praise and outright skepticism to possible steps President Barack Obama could take to ease immigration policies unilaterally without Congress, while saying his move won't necessarily deliver lasting political benefits for Democrats.

"Anything that keeps families together will be well received," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, a bipartisan organization.

The New York Times and others reported Thursday that Obama will sign an executive order as soon as next week that will, among other things, allow up to 5 million undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation.

For some Democrats, it may have turned out to be too little, too late. Vargas said the president's delay in taking immigration action after Congress failed to do so earlier this year may have contributed to weakened Latino support for Democrats. "It's too late for Nov. 4," he said. Last week's exit polls showed Republicans recorded an improvement in their support from Hispanics from the last national election. As part of winning control of the Senate and making gains at other levels, Republicans received 36 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally, up from 27 percent in 2012. Republican Cory Gardner, who beat incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Udall in Colorado, has been highlighted as someone who was successful in blunting the traditional Democratic advantage among Hispanics. Hispanics represented 14 percent of Colorado's electorate.

If he goes forward, Obama's action will trigger added hostility in Washington, where Republicans have made clear to the president that going forward on his own would be viewed as disrespectful to the incoming Republican majority. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has compared Obama signing an executive order on immigration to "waving a red flag in front of a bull" and House Speaker John Boehner said Obama could "burn himself" if he goes it alone.

Vargas said his group is still reviewing the details of the possible Obama proposal. For now, he was willing to describe it as "not tepid."

Some groups remain skeptical. The Dream Action Coalition, a group which advocates for undocumented youth, said in a statement that it was cautiously optimistic, while also warning that the official leak could be nothing more than a trial balloon. "It seems there are a lot of families that will be left out of this," Erika Andiola, the coalition's co-director said in a statement. “Obama’s legacy as the ‘Deporter In Chief’ won’t be wiped away with a modest measure that doesn’t change the record-setting deportation rate of his administration.”

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, which includes roughly 40 Latino groups, said in a statement that it has called on the White House to "provide relief to a broader population than is currently being reported as what the Obama administration is considering." 

The immigration issue will be especially tricky for potential 2016 presidential candidates who may need to cast a vote on the legislation next year. The Republican primary process provides outsized sway to activists who have been among those most ardently opposed to revising immigration laws.

Although the next election is two years away, Vargas said Latino voters will be watching the actions of potential presidential candidates closely. "If any candidate wants to be able to convince Hispanic voters that they want his or her vote, they will have to answer for their parties actions on immigration," he said.

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