President Barack Obama points to someone in the crowd as he arrives to speak about immigration at Del Sol High School, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Opinion: Immigration both a gold mine and mine field

As the President unveiled his plan for immigration reform in an oddly campaign-like event, I felt as if I was watching a lost episode of MTV’s Punk’d,or its older cousin Candid Camera. I’m not quite sure what the crowd was cheering about, but for some reason the large echo in the room, in which the President essentially repeated the bipartisan Senate immigration plan, was throwing the audience into a frenzy.

Perhaps it was the thousands of children who will go to sleep tonight without a parent thanks to the President’s overzealous enforcement program. Maybe it was the tens of thousands of detainees sitting in prison-like conditions in makeshift camps without any legal representation. I failed to see what there was to cheer about other than this is an issue that will surely bloody the nose of the Republican Party no matter how much they compromise on the issue.

That’s quite a tempting opportunity, and I hope the 1.5 million deportations was worth it to the Latino Democrats present at the pep rally in Las Vegas yesterday, but the President did nothing to mitigate the pain going on in the Latino community yesterday thanks to his policies.

And yet, the President essentially said that the deportations would continue and the militarization of our border will be stepped up.

So the argument goes, Latino’s have had to pay this danegeld to give the President the leverage he needed to confront the Republican argument that the federal government was ignoring its duty to enforce our immigration laws. Yet as President Obama went through his splendid list of accomplishments in enforcement, its was largely inconsequential to the political reality facing the Republican Party that they need to take the contentious issue of immigration off the table sooner rather than later.

Marco Rubio essentially answered the right-wing talking points in one segment of the Rush Limbaugh show in a way no amount of deportations by the Obama Administration ever could. And despite Rubio’s genuine effort to bridge the interests between right and left on this issue over the last year, the President seems more intent on undermining him than he does putting a halt to the pain.

There is no doubt immigration is a both gold mine and mine field, and the President’s victory seems to have emboldened him to the point that the suffering among immigrants is but another chip in the game for him. I suppose it’s a good thing that the continued ICE raids and intransigence among the President’s own officers ignoring his directives to prioritize deportations among dangerous criminals is creating a focused anger against the GOP, but maybe Latino Democrats shouldn’t show too much excitement and ask some relevant questions.

Of course, it’s always nice to see the incessant anti-immigrant whining by the truly committed right-wing zealots. They can essentially reprint their boilerplate screeds accusing sensible Republicans of supporting amnesty, economy and reality be damned. It is them who have put the GOP in this spot in the first place and it was the weak leadership of folks like Mitt Romney and John McCain who failed to educate their voters and chose instead to placate them.

Given the recent history of this debate, it’s clear the GOP will need to go through a ritualistic beating over immigration, and rightfully so. Elections have consequences, and the Republicans have been on the wrong side of history for decades now. The other day, the anti-immigrant politician, Tom Tancredo of Colorado, said with a straight face that 40 percent of Latinos voted for Mitt Romney in Arizona and that immigration has nothing to do with the GOP’s problem among Latinos.

This is incredible enough given the facts, but aside from the only sensible person in the room questioning the GOPs misguided tactic of isolating Latinos, the rest of the audience was quite comfortable with Tancredo’s ridiculous assertion.

And so long as the Republican base continues to confuse these asses for lions, Latinos will continue to take part in these awkward jubilees.


Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., NBC Latino contributor and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.

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