SAN DIEGO — To be a king, or not to be a king. For Barack Obama, it’s a trick question.
The president hates being challenged over his deportation policies or being asked why his administration – five months before an election – offered deferred action to young illegal immigrants but not to anyone else. So when those questions come up, as they tend to do during Spanish-language interviews, he reaches for a hackneyed line:
“I’m not a king.”
That is what Obama recently told Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas. And it is what he told Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart in another interview on the same day.
“I’m not a king.”
By now, those words are for many Latinos like fingernails on a chalkboard. We’ve heard them too many times. He must think we have short memories.
The next time he’s in one of these interviews, Obama should just give it to Latinos straight. He should say: “Look, you folks will believe anything. I deported 1.5 million people and divided thousands of families – most of them Latino – and you gave me 71 percent of your votes. Why are we even here?”
The Spanish-language journalists got off easy. If the president had been in a more condescending mood, they might have received a civics lesson on the three branches of government and been told that the executive branch can’t act without the blessing of the legislative branch.
Of course, there is tremendous power embodied in the executive office. Obama knows this full well, because – on issues he actually cares about – he has wielded the power of the presidency liberally.
In October 2011, Obama went on a spree of executive orders billed as the “We Can’t Wait” initiative. He took steps to ease the debt burden for college students by simplifying the process by which they pay back government loans, to help veterans find employment, and to make it easier for homeowners to refinance their mortgages.
At the time, Obama said: “Steps like these won’t take the place of the bold action we need from Congress to boost our economy and create jobs, but they will make a difference. And until Congress does act, I will continue to do everything in my power to act on behalf of the American people.”
But, when he had the chance, Obama didn’t do anything to stop a flood of deportations and prevent the destruction of families. Because, well, you know, he is not a king.
A year ago, as part of the “We Can’t Wait” initiative, the president was flexing his executive muscles once again – this time, with an accomplice. As Vice President Joe Biden stood by his side, Obama said: “When Congress refuses to act, Joe and I, we’re going to act.” Insisting that he was trying to improve the economy for the sake of middle-class voters, Obama went on to say: “With or without Congress, I’m going to continue to fight for them.”
Yet, oddly enough, when it came to stopping the deportations and restoring sanity to an enforcement system that has gone off the rails, Obama didn’t have any fight left in him. Because, well, you know, he is not a king.
Roberto Lovato is tired of hearing it. As the co-founder of Presente.org, a grassroots activist organization dedicated to protecting the rights of immigrants, the U.S.-born son of Salvadoran immigrants sees up close the human toll of Obama’s enforcement juggernaut. He wants the president to issue a moratorium on deportations until we can figure out if Congress is sincere about comprehensive immigration reform. He also wants an end to one of the administration’s favorite chew toys – the ghastly program known as Secure Communities, which ropes local and state police into the enforcement of federal immigration law.
I told him, “Sorry, ain’t going to happen. Because, well, you know, Obama is not a king.”
That’s when the activist really lit up.
“He’s right,” Lovato said. “For Latinos, President Obama is definitely not a ‘King.’ He’s not a Martin Luther King. Because Martin Luther King would never have jailed hundreds of thousands of innocents and deported what will be 2 million people by year’s end, and destroyed all those families. And King would never sanction immigration raids that terrorize children in their own homes.”
Ouch. Obama says he’s not a king. But he just got a royal scolding.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.