Jennifer Korn: The Truth About Immigration Reform

In a radio interview Tuesday, Vice President Biden said, “he and the President are breaking their necks trying to get immigration reform”. Someone will need to let the Vice-President know that what President Obama in fact broke, was his promise to Hispanics on immigration reform and is once again using the issue to pander to our community.

In the modern era, two presidents have tackled immigration reform. They were Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush—both conservatives. Plenty of liberal presidents have come and gone, but failed to champion immigration reform. Consider Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – nada! In fact, to make matters worse, President Obama leveraged the issue in 2008 to win over Hispanics. But then, once elected, he broke his promise, shattering the dreams of many hardworking immigrants.

While working in the White House for President George W. Bush, I saw first-hand his unwavering commitment to achieving a bipartisan agreement on immigration reform and his leadership in the pursuit of it, even when it was politically unpopular with some members of his own party. In contrast, President Obama did not even try to work with leaders from both parties to fix our broken immigration system despite the fact that he enjoyed the benefits of working with a Democrat-controlled Congress during his first two years in the White House.

President Bush’s marching orders were clear. We held weekly meetings with a bipartisan coalition of groups from various sectors, including the business, agriculture, civil rights, and religious communities. We listened, collected their input, and shared our ideas with them. President Bush sent two of his Cabinet Secretaries to Capitol Hill to help draft legislation; and he was the only president ever to deliver a national address on immigration from the Oval Office. Now that is commitment.

President Obama often says that he is ”committed to immigration reform,” but saying those words repeatedly don’t make it so. Let. Me. Be. Clear: President Obama has not drafted any immigration reform legislation. When he says those words, what he really means is ”I am committed to it, so Congress now you go and do it.” That is not leadership; and that does not get important issues moving in Congress.

Immigration reform is a complicated issue; as such, it requires both leadership and commitment from the Executive. The President’s excuse for his inaction is that no Republicans would vote for his plan. What plan? You cannot vote on legislation that does not exist. News flash: speeches alone don’t cut it.

Remember when he told us, during a May 2008 interview with Univision’s Jorge Ramos that “…what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting. And I want to move that forward as quickly as possible.”

Well, even though the President had a veto-proof Congress for the first two years of his term  -- more than 700 days with a majority of Democrats in the House and Senate who could have helped him pass immigration reform – he did nothing. Instead, he ignored the dire state of our economy and his promise to reform immigration, pushing through his health care law.

Why did he ignore his promise to our community? At best, we might conclude that he couldn’t get enough votes from his own party. After all, there are Democrats who don’t support immigration reform because unions oppose a guest worker program. At worst, Obama wasn’t committed to getting it done, figuring he could blame the Republicans and demonize them with Hispanics.

Now let’s compare President Obama’s lackadaisical approach to immigration reform with his push for a health care law. He cared so much about health care reform that he helped craft legislation, campaigned for its passage, and negotiated with elected officials to garner their support. Now that is commitment.

Confronted with his broken promise and an impending election, the President decided, just five months before the 2012 presidential elections, to issue an executive order allowing for a temporary, pseudo-DREAM Act. I agree that this unilateral measure is indeed beneficial to the children of undocumented immigrants brought here through no fault of their own. However, if President Obama cared so much about this issue, why didn’t he pass a permanent measure over two years ago when he knew he had the chance? It looks political, it smells political…could it be political?

To top it all off, President Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president in history - 400,000 each year - over 1.4 million people - separating countless families during his presidency.

Now, the president is asking us for four more years with the same promise of post-election immigration reform. In a recent article, the headline reads, “Obama says Latino vote is key to victory, vows immigration reform in 2013.” This deal sounds awfully familiar. Hispanics need to take a closer look at what the president has and has not delivered, and not just what he says.

Jennifer S. Korn is the Executive Director of the Hispanic Leadership Network (HLN). Previously, she served in President George W. Bush’s White House as Director of Hispanic and Women’s Affairs.

Jennifer S. Korn, a Marine Corps spouse, is Executive Director of the Hispanic Leadership Network (HLN). Previously, she served in President George W. Bush's White House as Director of Hispanic and Women's Affairs.

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