SAN DIEGO — President Barack Obama’s overzealous deportation policies divide Latino Democrats. This division extends to San Antonio, where a rising star in the party is at odds with an older establishment figure who has been called his mentor.
If we’re going to watch a Shakespearean drama, first we must set the scene. Activists are holding hunger strikes outside the White House, demanding that Obama slow the record number of deportations – more than 1,100 per day, totaling 2 million in five years. The president stubbornly refuses to do so.
In 2012, Obama unveiled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which lets young undocumented immigrants stay in the country and apply for two-year work permits. Recently, however, the president said he would not expand the DACA program to adults, including parents with U.S.-born kids who risk being separated from their children.
“If we start broadening that, then essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally,” Obama told Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart. “So that’s not an option.”
It’s astounding. Obama ignores the law when politically expedient and then rediscovers it when convenient. On immigration, he will be whatever you want him to be – tough, compassionate, or a splash of both.
Now to the drama. Former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros is one of the most respected figures in the Hispanic community. Yet, there isn’t much to respect in his position on deportations.
As part of the immigration task force of the Bipartisan Policy Center, which claims to support immigration reform while at the same time backing the status quo, Cisneros told reporters that he and his colleagues – former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, etc. – did not agree with those who demand that Obama stop deportations.
“We believe that’s not the right thing to do,” he said.
Et tu, Henry? I’ve known the man for 25 years, and I consider him a friend. Still, I have no doubt that if the president who deported 2 million people, most of them Latino, were a Republican, Cisneros would be raising a ruckus instead of falling in line.
Besides shilling for the establishment, Cisneros gives cover to Obama – his third choice for president in 2008 behind New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton – by opposing a stop to deportations.
He worries that putting on the brakes “may create a political environment where it’s impossible in any reasonable time frame to get comprehensive immigration reform, because the waters will be so poisoned politically.”
Seriously? Cisneros is really concerned about derailing immigration reform? It’s already in the ditch. He hasn’t been paying attention to the debate. Otherwise, he’d get the joke: The well is already poisoned, and it was Obama who poisoned it by using immigration to help himself politically and trying to be all things to all people.
For better leadership, take a look at the person who now has the job that Cisneros had in the 1980s.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro – who is mentioned as a possible 2016 vice presidential candidate – isn’t falling in line. He has been to the White House to meet with Obama about immigration, so he knows how the sausage is made. One minute, Castro is watching the president insist that he lacks the power to halt deportations. The next, he is watching Obama halt hundreds of thousands of deportations through DACA with legal authority the president claimed he didn’t have. Castro remains a supporter of Obama, but having a front-row seat to a flip-flop that grand is bound to make you cynical.
Now Castro is suggesting Obama change his deportation policy.
“My hope is that his administration will go about it in a different way,” he said during a recent event at the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Library in Austin, marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. When asked about criticism that Obama has deported too many people, Castro agreed with the critics.
“I’m not comfortable with the number of deportations,” he said. “My hope is that just like he did with [DACA], the president will find ways that are within his power, that are constitutional, to ease the level of deportations.”
So Castro has broken ranks with his mentor, and placed himself on the right side of history. Meanwhile, Cisneros remains the consummate team player. The question for Latinos is: What team is he playing for?
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.