When it comes to providing undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship, President Barack Obama has already broken two promises. The first was his pledge to bring immigration reform legislation to Congress during his first year in office; the second was his recent postponement of executive action on immigration until after the midterm elections in November. Meanwhile, his administration has deported more than 2 million undocumented immigrants since he assumed office in 2009.
Not surprisingly, the president has a credibility problem in the Hispanic community, which holds the immigration issue close to its heart. Yet Obama is all we have: The fates of 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. are in his hands. In the short term, Obama is our only hope for progress.
Of course, that hope is difficult to sustain when, time and again, we see politicking take priority over governing. On June 30 – amid Republican efforts to block any sort progress on immigration reform in Congress – the president declared in a speech from the White House that he would take executive action to help millions of undocumented immigrants in this country come out of the shadows by the end of the summer. That action has since been postponed, presumably to protect Democratic congressional candidates from any blowback when voters head to the polls in November.
White House officials insist that it’s all just a matter of timing, and that the president will deliver on his promise later this year. In the meantime, all we can do is wait and hope.
But while deportations under the Obama administration continue to separate families, and the promised immigration reform continues to be delayed, we should acknowledge two things.
First, congressional Republicans remain the true obstacles to reform, especially John Boehner, the fearful and passive speaker of the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, it will take major electoral defeats to convince Republicans that they can’t come out against immigration reform and expect to win the increasingly important Latino vote in the U.S. If Republicans don’t change their strategy, the 2016 presidential election will be a real nightmare for their party.
Second, when it comes to reform, immigration supporters don’t have a Plan B. We were naive and put all our trust in the White House and a few Democratic lawmakers, but that was not enough. We should have learned from the experiences of other minority groups – gays, African-Americans, women, Cuban-Americans – and created bipartisan coalitions to help foster progress. Our failure to do so was a mistake, and we are now paying the consequences.
Without political coalitions, Hispanics and all those who support immigration reform are left waiting for Obama’s help. Yes, he may still turn out to be our greatest ally. Perhaps he will help millions of immigrants by bravely deferring their deportations – as he did for more than half a million undocumented young adults known as “Dreamers,” who were brought to the U.S. by their parents as children. But all sorts of variables could change things. What if instead of, say, offering more work permits to immigrants and deferring deportations, Obama tepidly decided to help fewer people? Or what if an international crisis or a terrorist attack changed the political calculus altogether? Immigration supporters would be helpless, and the undocumented would be left hopeless.
Even if Obama keeps his word this time and signs an executive order in November or December, the Republicans are sure to challenge his actions, potentially deferring actual reform until Obama leaves office in 2017.
We must devise a Plan B. Immigration reform and the advancement of the Hispanic community shouldn’t depend on someone doing us a favor. Going forward, let’s learn from history and be inspired by those in the Hispanic community who overcame massive odds: people like the farm-worker activist Cesar Chavez, or even the determined young men and women in the Dreamer movement. They never gave up; they fought through their fear and confronted powerful leaders head-on. They presented intelligent arguments and made people realize that a triumph for them would be a triumph for the entire country.
Let’s admit to our past mistakes and resolve to be better prepared from here on out. I’m certain that sooner or later the United States will be as generous to all immigrants as it has been to me. But we are responsible for bringing about change. Nobody else will do it for us.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the host of Fusion’s new television news show, “America With Jorge Ramos,” and is a news anchor on the Univision Network. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of nine best-selling books, most recently, “A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto.”