By Allison Sherry Denver Post
November 28, 2010
Two years ago, Latinos were promised work on immigration reform, passage of the DREAM Act and economic recovery if they ushered Barack Obama into the presidency.
Then, this fall, after none of that happened, they were asked to stay with the Democrats.
On Spanish-language radio, Obama beseeched listeners to stick by him. On television commercials and in stump speeches, Latinos were told that Tea Party candidates were scary and extreme and wouldn't represent their interests.
Again, Latinos were promised work toward comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, a better economy and more jobs.
With both the U.S. House and the Senate leadership pledging to push the DREAM Act in the lame-duck session and perhaps as soon as this week, Latino leaders and community organizers say the people they sent to Washington two years ago have about two more weeks to prove they are worth working for in 2012.
"These two weeks are crucial to how Latinos will vote in 2012," said Julieta Quinonez, a 24-year-old youth organizer for Denver-based Padres Unidos.
"Obama got elected behind the slogan, 'Yes we can.' He made a lot of promises for us," she said. "As an organization that works with a lot of people who are undocumented, you can tell there is disappointment."
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would give conditional citizenship to illegal immigrant kids who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years and who arrived before the age of 16, if they either attend college or join the military.
It would also allow undocumented students to attend college at in-state tuition rates.
Advocates say they have only 55 sure votes in the Senate, which is shy of what they need to make it a reality. Opponents say the bill equals amnesty for potentially hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.
Both of Colorado's Democratic U.S. senators support the proposed law.
Latino vote crucial
People across the country like Quinonez planned to spend the holiday weekend leaning on elected officials — some of whom lost midterm elections — to help push for passage before Republicans assume control of the House in January.
"I think right now if they can manage to pull off the DREAM Act, they could restore some of their (the Democrats and Obama's) credibility," said 19-year- old Leidy Robledo, who also works with youth at Padres Unidos.
Many political observers cite the Latino turnout for pushing Obama over the edge in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. That support would no doubt be critical to his 2012 re-election hopes.
Just a few weeks ago — despite studies that showed Latino voters wary of the midterm candidates and tone of the elections — they turned out in the same numbers as the last 2006 midterm race, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Polly Baca has been involved in politics since the 1960s and said Latino voters have become more sophisticated about turning out votes.
Baca, who co-chairs the Colorado Latino Forum, said 2010 was actually more about voting against candidates who spouted anti-Latino rhetoric than voting for anyone.
"We are the reason the United States Senate remained in the hands of the Democrats," she said. "The turnout in Nevada, Colorado and California was enormous. . . . What we demonstrated is who is against us. We'll go vote against those voices."
"People ought to be angry"
Former Denver Mayor Federico Peña notes political frustration is high among many Latinos in the U.S., but says the blame falls squarely on Republicans who have stood in the way of comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act.
Some Senate Republicans, like Arizona's John McCain and Utah's Orrin Hatch, supported the DREAM Act years ago but now do not.
"People ought to be angry, but they should be angry at the people who are voting against this," said Peña, who helped shape Obama's Latino outreach strategy in 2008. "The attention is misplaced. It shouldn't be on the president, it should be on the Republican party."
But Ricardo Martinez, a co-director of Padres Unidos and longtime community organizer, said he is disappointed in the lack of progress in the past two years.
"There have been more deportations under Obama than Bush," he said, pointing out that sometimes Republicans push more humane immigration policies than Democrats. He said passage of the DREAM Act would help his mood.
"As individuals, people are great," he said of the Democrats. "As a party they suck. They are spineless."
Allison Sherry: 303-954-1377 or firstname.lastname@example.org
By Allison Sherry Denver Post