Latinos Activists Angry, But Vindicated, After Democrats Lose Senate

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, AR - NOVEMBER 04:  U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and republican U.S. Senate elect in Arkansas salutes suppor
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, AR - NOVEMBER 04: U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and republican U.S. Senate elect in Arkansas salutes supporters during an election night gathering on November 4, 2014 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Cotton defeated two-term incumbent democrat U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR). (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A number of Latino activists and commentators report feeling angry yet vindicated in the wake of Tuesday's midterm elections, in which Democrats lost control of the Senate after the White House spent months tiptoeing around the issue of deportation relief.

When President Barack Obama announced in September that he would delay, for a second time, a promised executive action to relieve more undocumented immigrants from deportation, many Latino commentators predicted that it would backfire. At the time, the White House cited concerns that taking action on the controversial immigration issue could jeopardize vulnerable Democrats in several key Senate races.

On Tuesday, most of those Democrats lost anyway. Tight Senate races in Colorado, North Carolina and Arkansas went to the Republican candidates, prompting comments like this one from Axel Caballero, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers:

Obama’s foot-dragging on deportation relief had angered some activists so much that they threatened not to vote for either party. Presente Action, a major Latino organization, urged its members in September not to vote for four Democratic Senate candidates who had supported a procedural vote that the group characterized as a blow to undocumented immigrants.

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who lost her re-election bid on Tuesday, was among those four. Immigration activist Lizbeth Mateo wasn't sorry to see her go.

"Tonight you lost your job, but you will still go back to your family," Mateo wrote in a non-public Facebook post directed at Hagan. "However, because of the inaction and ineptitude of your party many parents will not get that chance. Many will not go back to their kids tonight. If you ask me, you got what you deserve."

Hagan's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Not all activists share Mateo's feelings. Isabel Framer, an advocate who has pressed for immigration reform since 2002, said that if the White House had made a major executive decision on deportation relief ahead of the midterms, it likely would have poisoned any future reform efforts by further politicizing an already controversial issue. Though Framer sympathized with the wider reform movement, she chided activists for focusing so much on Obama, who supports immigration reform, rather than on Republicans, who largely oppose it.

"They've dropped activism against Republicans and decided to go after the president," Framer told The Huffington Post. "To me, they killed immigration reform. This is a great position for the Republicans, because they're off the hook."

Latinos didn’t exactly punish Democrats on Election Day. In House contests nationwide, Democrats carried the Latino vote by a 28-point margin, according to preliminary exit polls. That's a 6-point increase from the last midterm election, in 2010.

While it’s impossible to predict what might have happened if Obama had moved forward with the executive action as promised, pollster Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions said that delaying the deportation relief likely dampened enthusiasm for Democrats among Latino voters.

“In looking at the 2014 disaster for Democrats, it is now clear that a major failure was reaching out and engaging with Latinos,” Barreto told HuffPost in an email. “As a party, the Democrats did not inspire or mobilize Latinos.”

The data from Barreto’s own firm supports this idea. A poll published in June found that 57 percent of registered Latino voters would feel less enthusiastic about voting for a Democrat if Obama declined to use his executive power to change deportation policy. Just over half of respondents said they would be less enthusiastic about voting at all under those circumstances.

Ahead of Election Day, a Latino Decisions poll showed that immigration was a top issue for Latino voters, with two-thirds of those surveyed saying it was either the most important issue or one of the most important issues influencing their choice of candidate.

For Julio Ricardo Varela, founder of the site Latino Rebels, the link between Latino frustration and Tuesday's Democratic defeats is clear.

"In any campaign, you want to excite your base,” Varela told HuffPost in an email. “Those who made the decision to not have the President act on immigration relief based it on conventional thinking. The wind was taken out of the sails before the sailboat even left the harbor … This wasn't about whether or not the Latino vote would have an impact on these races. Instead it was about whether Democrats really cared about the immigration issue.”

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