No We Can't

Nearly halfway through his second term, and that much closer to being a lame duck, how is President Obama doing? Latinos across the country are weighing in, looking at key issues such as immigration reform, healthcare, jobs and the economy.

Immigration reform activists say they aren’t giving up, even if the likelihood of a vote in the House looks more and more doubtful. “We’re going to keep pushing on and pressing forward for a vote in Congress, but we realize that if it doesn’t happen, then the president would have no other option but to offer some sort of temporary measure to help some undocumented groups,” said America’s Voice senior advisor Maribel Hastings. “Ironically, no action by Congress means that President Obama would be doing something [House Republicans] don’t want. The votes are there for immigration reform, but the House leadership is letting the anti-immigrant extremists define the agenda.”

Journalist Pilar Marrero is the author of Killing the American Dream, an examination of immigration politics, and she tells LATINO that it’s “a bit old” to say that the apparent failure of immigration reform lies only with Republicans: “It doesn’t seem like the White House is doing much, either. For instance, they said for the longest time they had no authority to do deferred action, and then they did it. The administration can’t stop all the deportations, but it can do something. And there aren’t too many Latino members of Congress who are going out on a limb.” The key this year, says Marrero, will be the upcoming midterm elections. “There are several seats in play that will determine which party controls things and that’s the main focus looking ahead.”

Salvador Sánchez is a political science professor at Los Angeles City College who calls himself “very disappointed” with the president. “We were expecting many things. He had a very ambitious agenda, great ideas, but is lacking in leadership. He told us ‘Yes We Can’ but he didn’t really lay out the foundation on how he was going to do it.” Sánchez says he is especially concerned about the Obama Administration’s record number of deportations---more than all previous administrations combined---and believes the Democrats take the Latino community for granted: “They think Latinos will never vote for Republicans.” Sánchez also believes the Obama Administration has done a poor job of outreach to young Latinos to sign up for the Affordable Care Act ---more commonly known as Obamacare---and that the deportations have created a climate of fear even with healthcare.

“My students don’t understand how [Obamacare] works. They think you need a lot of money, they don’t know about the subsidies, and they’re afraid that the government is going to use the information to come and take their undocumented relatives away. There really needs to be more information and more aggressive outreach.” Sánchez also says he would like to see the Obama Administration work more closely with corporate America and business leaders to develop more jobs.

“There are a lot of people in the community hurting economically. We need well-paying jobs, not more minimum wage jobs. Anyone can get a minimum wage job but you can’t live on that. We need good jobs and that means we need to have more of a conversation with the business community that actually moves forward and does something,” he says.

Delia Ibarra is a lawyer who spent several years working in the Clinton Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services. She understands how some Latinos are disillusioned with President Obama but she doesn’t count herself among them. It’s the current congressional climate that is to blame, she says. “I’ve never seen anything like this gridlock before. I’ve never seen it this bad. The president hasn’t had a good partner in Congress. We’re not having a constructive dialogue, no meaningful debate, and that is bad for our country.” Ibarra tells LATINO that she hopes the president will continue to focus on pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, or at least use his executive powers to help more undocumented immigrants like he did in 2012 with deferred action.

Ibarra does add that all of the negative attention paid to the rollout of Obamacare and the website’s problems take away what she considers a key victory for the Latino community: passage of the law itself. “This is a huge victory for Latinos because we have one of the highest percentages of uninsured in the country. I personally know of many people who didn’t have insurance because they couldn’t afford it, or they were paying through the nose, and now under Obamacare not only do they have insurance, but it is affordable. That is a big deal for us. Sure, there have been missteps, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that this law is tremendous for the Latino community.”

Patricio Beltrán, an applications software director and a Texas native, argues that congressional inaction is the root of the problem. “The president is doing the best he can, but something has to be done about this Congress. They’re not doing anything. There are a lot of disillusioned people out there because of that. I think they’re not even going to doing anything about immigration reform.” Like Marrero, Beltrán says this year’s midterm elections will be decisive. “Latinos have to get out there and vote, and defeat those people who are not doing anything if we want things done.”

So the jury is still out. Even if no one is too happy with Obama, they aren’t about to give up, either. Stay tuned...

Patricia Guadalupe