Obama's Race Pandering

The president courts Hispanic voters by promoting an open-borders activist.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama energized his left-wing base with promises of “comprehensive immigration reform” – aka amnesty for illegal immigrants. As president, Obama shelved those plans, instead courting the ire of Hispanic and open-borders activists by stepping up deportations of illegal immigrants. But as he kicks off his reelection bid – which will hinge on success in swing states with large Hispanic voter populations like Florida, New Mexico, and Colorado – Obama is trying to woo back his disaffected base, starting with his appointment this week of Cecilia Munoz as director of his Domestic Policy Council.

On the face of it, Munoz, the daughter of Bolivian immigrants, would appear a good fit to bolster Obama’s tarnished standing among Hispanic supporters of illegal immigration. For one thing, she has solid credentials on open-borders. Before joining the Obama administration in 2009, Munoz served as Vice President of the National Council of La Raza. Since its humble origins in the 1960s as the voice of Chicano radicalism, La Raza, Spanish for “the race,” has emerged as the country’s leading open-border advocacy group. Today, La Raza lobbies for everything from racial preferences, to mass immigration and amnesty for illegal aliens. Munoz shares those views, as she confirmed recently when she revealed that “Ultimately, my career is about making sure the doors are open in this country for everybody." Presumably, that means illegal immigrants, too.

Munoz has in fact proved an effective insider for La Raza. That is particularly true when it comes to securing government funding for the group. An investigation by Judicial Watch found that federal funding for La Raza surged after Munoz joined the Obama administration, spiking from $4.1 million in 2009 to a whopping $11 million in 2010. Pro-illegal-immigration groups also regard Munoz as a point person for their agenda, and her appointment this week was cheered by everyone from government unions like the  SEIU to progressive activist groups like the Center for American Progress.

Not everyone is pleased with her job performance, however. If Hispanics and other backers of open-borders expected Munoz to deliver amnesty, they have been sorely disappointed. Despite Obama’s rhetorical promises, the administration has not attempted to pass “comprehensive immigration reform.” Even more galling is that the administration has aggressively increased deportations of illegal immigrants. Since 2009, according to the Department of Homeland Security, some 400,000 illegal immigrants have been deported annually. That number is double the annual average during President George W. Bush’s first term and 30 percent higher than when Bush left office.

To be sure, DHS’s numbers may be inflated. After crunching the numbers, analysts at Syracuse University recently reported that “many fewer individuals were apprehended, detained and deported by the agency than were claimed in its official statements.” Yet that has not appeased Munoz’s critics in the Hispanic community, who view her tenure inside the administration as a betrayal. Earlier this fall, for instance, the grassroots Hispanic group Presente.org launched a petition drive demanding that Munoz “return to her roots” by denouncing the Obama administration’s immigration policy and resigning. Roberto Lovato, the group’s co-founder, was scathing in his appraisal. “Cecilia Munoz has made a 180-degree move from being a champion for immigrants to being the No. 1 defender of a horrendous immigration policy,” he charged.

In response to the backlash, the Obama administration pledged to soften its deportation policy. Going forward, it announced, DHS will be deporting mainly “criminal illegal aliens” rather that so-called “law-abiding illegal aliens.” As critics were quick to note, this latter category was an oxymoron. Remaining in the country illegally is by definition a crime, one often compounded by felonies like identity theft, document fraud, and illegal employment. Regardless, it has not calmed the furor from the administration’s Hispanic critics. A December study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that nearly 60 percent of Hispanics disapprove of the administration’s deportation policy. Munoz’s appointment this week is unlikely to change minds in the Hispanic community, especially since she is increasingly seen as an in-house apologist for Obama’s deportation policies.

Politically, that may not matter. An election-year campaign to win over Hispanic support for Obama is largely redundant. The Pew Hispanic center recently published a report showing that while Hispanics disapprove of Obama’s deportation policies, they plan to vote for him by a sizeable majority in the election.

Nor does the president have much to fear by failing to make good on his pledge of comprehensive reform, says Stephen Steinlight, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Immigration Studies. “The Obama administration may make lip service to pushing some version of comprehensive immigration reform, but when push comes to shove it will not press nearly as hard as it promises because its strategists are in possession of the same polls we are. They show the vast majority of the American people oppose amnesty and the population explosion in legal immigration it would produce as a result of the legalized being able to avail themselves of extended family reunification.”

In that sense, Steinlight notes, Munoz’s appointment may be seen as the latest instance of the administrations’ “symbolic pandering and posturing about immigration reform -- minus the reality.”

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