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Democrats Accused of "Empty Words" on Immigration

There's a simple, strong message for Washington Democrats coming in both Spanish and English: deliver on campaign promises and immigration reform.
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There’s a very strong editorial today in La Opinion on the issue of immigration reform. Translated, the title reads, "No More Empty Words." It lays responsibility for any inaction on immigration this Congress squarely at the feet of Democrats. It notes that in the past Democrats were able to blame Republicans for blocking comprehensive immigration reform, but not now, not with control of the White House and solid majorities in both chambers.

Now, most politicos won’t read this editorial because it’s in Spanish. So allow me to translate.

La Opinion is the country's leading Spanish-language newspaper, and a large swath of Spanish-speaking voters across the country will read it. But it doesn’t stand alone. The editorial reflects a growing sentiment among Spanish-speaking Latino voters, who turned out in record numbers in 2008 to vote Democrats into office (marking a major swing from 2004, when large numbers of Spanish-speaking voters turned out for Bush). The piece reads:

In an interview with La Opinion, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said she has hopes that reform would happen this year, without offering anymore details. This statement is as disappointing as were the words of President Obama in his State of the Union message to Congress. The time for empty words is over.

For many years, Republican intransigence was responsible for blocking comprehensive and fair immigration reform. Now the White House and Congress are in the hands of Democrats and the stalemate continues. House and Senate leadership are responsible for failing to place immigration reform on the agenda, and for failing to influence their ranks so that legislation is brought forward for consideration.

The editorial closes with a paragraph that should make all Democrats shudder:

Promises made during elections win votes and create hope. The commitment to immigration reform attracted many votes and fed the hopes of millions of working people. Now Congress must keep its promise.

A Miami Herald piece this weekend strikes a similar chord:

As one of the first Latinos in the nation to endorse Barack Obama, Democratic state Sen. Gilbert Cedillo of Los Angeles campaigned hard for the president, but he's disappointed now.

The reason: Obama has yet to do anything on a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws, as he promised to do when he ran for president.

"I think he's in danger of breaking the spirit of solidarity and hope," Cedillo said. "More than a broken promise, it's the danger of breaking people's sense of hope in the Latino community."

Yes, promises were made. And if this week's (Spanish) headlines and recent Latino polling are any indication, failure to keep promises will likely have consequences with Latino voters. Even in the mid-terms.

Last week my organization released a new report entitled, "The Power of the Latino Vote in America: They Tipped Elections in 2008; Where Will they be in 2010?" It's a thorough analysis that spotlights Latino voting trends, expains why the issue of immigration reform will affect turnout, and identifies key races in 11 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia) where Latino voters have an impact.

To put it bluntly, if Latinos don’t have a reason to vote in the mid-terms some 40 close races – including 8 Senate seats – could end up red and not blue.

But don’t Latinos prioritize the economy over immigration? Yes, just like all Americans. But what every political operative needs to understand is that while immigration might not be the top issue for most Latino voters, it is a defining one. Their closeness to the immigrant experience and the fact that many live in “mixed status” families – made up of citizens, permanent residents, and undocumented immigrants – makes immigration reform a threshold issue for a majority of Latino voters. That threshold wasn’t met under a Republican-controlled Congress and Presidency and Latinos turned on them with a vengeance. To date, it’s not been met under Democratic control.

In the wake of the election of Scott Brown, Democrats on Capitol Hill appear to be cowering instead of leading. Yesterday’s announcement from Evan Bayh will probably make this disturbing trend even worse. It shouldn’t. According to Sam Stein of the Huffington Post, Democratic strategists from across the spectrum are urging Democrats to buckle down and deliver:

Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the blog Daily Kos, said that the best way for Democrats to salvage the fate of the party before the 2010 elections is clear: "Deliver on their campaign promises."

"No one is asking them to go out on a limb and do something they didn't first run by the American people," Moulitsas said, in an email to the Huffington Post. "The Dems are where they are because they got elected promising to be a party able to govern, and then spent the last year proving themselves wrong."

On the opposite end of the Democratic Party spectrum, Lanny Davis, a longtime Clinton confidant and purveyor of the politics of compromise, offered a similar diagnosis.

There’s a simple, strong message for Washington Democrats coming in both Spanish and English: deliver on campaign promises. Immigration reform, which both mobilizes a large group of new voters and promises some degree of bipartisanship, is a prime candidate for doing just that.