SAN DIEGO — Someday, those who study Hispanic political power will look back on the first five years of the Obama administration and see it as a high-stakes test for Latino Democrats in Congress. They’ll also conclude that the Hispanic lawmakers failed miserably.
Last year, I suggested disbanding the Congressional Hispanic Caucus – a group of 27 Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate who meet regularly to do who knows what. The organization is irrelevant, and its members – desperate to keep their jobs by staying on the good side of Democratic leaders – routinely put the interest of their party over those of their constituents.
What caught my attention back then was that Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, a first-term member who represents a district along the U.S.-Mexico border, had resigned from the caucus to protest the group’s misguided support for the Senate immigration bill, which would continue to militarize the border with more fencing and a doubling of the size of the Border Patrol. Vela thought that fortifying the border was a mistake, and that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus should never have lent its support.
Another person who is disappointed with the caucus is Erika Andiola, a 27-year-old “dreamer” who lives near Phoenix. She has taken to publicly confronting Hispanic Caucus members such as Reps. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, and Loretta Sanchez, Garden Grove, demanding that they pressure Obama to devise a more humane immigration policy. According to Andiola’s account, which she wrote for the Huffington Post, Becerra downplayed the urgency of stopping the deportations and suggested that what the undocumented should be concerned about was becoming citizens so they could vote for Democrats.
Meanwhile, Sanchez – according to a video of her encounter with Andiola – left in a hurry when the activist demanded to know why the congresswoman’s staff had called Capitol Police to arrest “dreamers” who were protesting inside Sanchez’s office – despite the fact that an arrest sets them up to be deported. With friends like these . . . .
Some Hispanic Democrats – having carried water for the Senate bill, and having failed to raise much of a ruckus over President Obama’s atrocious record of deporting scores of illegal immigrants, requiring local police to enforce federal immigration law through Secure Communities, and devastating countless families – are now repeating administration talking points to justify their actions.
They blame Republicans.
They blame an appropriations process that, they say, requires the administration spend its allotted enforcement dollars whether it wants to or not.
They blame a public that, they claim, won’t support legalizing the undocumented until the border is secure and deportations are robust.
All the while, these Democrats will say anything to avoid blaming the person who heads the executive branch, which controls how many people get deported and under what circumstances: Obama.
I got an earful of this rubbish recently when, while having lunch with a friend, I bumped into Rep. Juan Vargas, D-El Centro, another first-term member who seems to be enjoying his new job and no doubt would like to keep it by doing whatever the party requires. This includes defending Obama.
“When are you guys in the Hispanic Caucus going to start publicly hammering Obama for the deportations?” I asked Vargas.
“Oh, we did that,” he said. “We just had a meeting, where we told him that this is a problem. But the Republicans . . .”
“No, no,” I said, cutting him off. “Forget the Republicans. You guys don’t understand this issue, and Obama takes advantage of that. The next time he brings up the Republicans in a meeting, you need to remind him of what he did in the executive branch – like expanding Secure Communities, and setting up quotas, and deporting people we didn’t used to deport like battered wives – that helped him get to 2 million deportations. And you know why he did that? Not to please Republicans. It was to please that blue-collar wing of the Democratic Party – your party – that sees the undocumented as a threat because they take jobs. You need to tell him that.”
The congressman was getting visibly uncomfortable, and I could feel my blood pressure rising. After another 30 seconds of the exchange, he excused himself and made his way back to his table where a friendlier crowd was waiting.
These are the leaders of the Hispanic community. Impressive, aren’t they?
Ruben Navarrette is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Reach him at [email protected]