Former White House Official Talks About Having Been Undocumented

Growing up in South Florida, Luis Miranda tried to keep his dreams reined in. The Colombian youth was undocumented, and was reluctant to let his hopes for the future soar just to crash hard in disappointment.

But President Ronald Reagan’s amnesty program in 1986 helped Miranda, now 36, become a U.S. legal permanent resident. Miranda got a bachelor’s degree at Florida Atlantic University, where he majored in political science.

He put his college education to work, becoming a part of several Democratic presidential campaigns, including that of Barack Obama. Miranda joined President Obama’s White House staff in 2009, serving as his communications adviser and devising strategies for reaching out to Latino media and communities. Miranda left the White House after completing his tenure, and now has his own communications consultant business.

He spoke to Fox News Latino about his years at the White House, his ringside view of President Obama, and a variety of other topics.

You had a close-up view of President Obama. Can you give a sense of what he is like?

LM: I always appreciated that he’s so down-to-earth. He always puts his staff at ease. He’s very approachable. The first day I worked for him he actually approached me and extended his hand. We were in Florida, it was the first or second week in 2009. He came over and said: “Hi. Do you work for me?”

How much focus was there in the White House on Hispanics?

LM: My first full day working, Rahm Emanuel [the then-chief of staff for Obama] wanted to make sure the entire cabinet and senior officials were engaged [with Hispanics]. We did a round-table my second day with Hispanic media and Rahm Emanuel. The point was if he had time to sit down with Hispanic media, that all senior officials should also make time – the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Education.

What were highlights for you during your time there?

LM: Professionally, the issues that stood out for me were, for example, the deferred action announcement. That’s something that we’d been working on from the beginning. The Department of Homeland Security laid out the groundwork for it by executing prosecutorial discretion [on immigration violation matters]. It was Secretary Janet Napolitano who proposed the deferred action program. It wasn’t a surprise to me that the president announced it. That’s the kind of thing that we were trying to do [on immigration].

The Obama Administration was the target of criticism by many Latinos and immigration advocates who said he had not done enough to address the flaws in the immigration system. How did that reverberate inside the White House?

LM: We always took it seriously. What I tried to do, especially in the first two years, was to highlight to Hispanics the issues we were working on relating to Latinos. Yes, immigration was important, but there were other issues that had an important impact on Latinos. We were trying to tackle economic issues and show the impact that it would have on Latino families. We spoke about how if we could expand the child tax credit, the payroll tax cut, it would help Latinos. The impact of health reform was important for Latinos, as a significant number of the uninsured are Latinos – a third of the 45 million people who are uninsured are Latinos.

The president’s healthcare reform focuses on preventive care, we’re [Hispanics] are less likely to get it because we’re less likely to have healthcare providers.

For me, healthcare was important, it was a personal thing – I never had healthcare growing up. I know what it’s like avoiding going to the doctor.

Did you ever talk to President Obama about having been undocumented?

LM: On the undocumented issue, I never discussed it with him. On healthcare, not having it, it did come up, during down time, if we were waiting to do an interview.

Is there any particularly special moment, a memory, for you during your time with the president?

LM: When I went on a trip with him to Colombia. I had not been back to Colombia since I left, I’d been gone for 31 years, and I was back – with the President of the United States. When we were in Cartagena, after being there a couple of days, he asked me “How does it feel to be back?” I said “There is a familiarity, but I also feel like a complete foreigner.” He laughed and said: “That’s because you are.”

When my family left Cartagena, my dad snapped a picture out of the side window of the airplane. When I was on the airplane, I tried to snap that same picture from a side window.

What did you think you’d grow up to be when you were a kid in Broward County, Florida?

LM: I didn’t understand how [being undocumented] affected me at the time. You internalize it, you don’t know how to talk about it. In retrospect, I realized that was a moment that made me withdraw and retreat. It put roadblocks in my way, I was putting them there, I felt I wasn’t accepted.

What do you think will happen with immigration reform?

LM: I worked on the messaging about immigration. The message was the fact that is has an economic benefit, and we were trying to put a human face on it. It’s good for the United States, it will help with national security. In 2005, 2006, 2007, immigration was so divisive, it was kind of abstract, it was important this time to get away from the language of those debates.

[Immigration reform] helps create jobs, its turns people into taxpayers, and they can have a full stake in the community they live in.

Who has a shot at being the first Latino president?

LM: You mean besides Marco Rubio (laughs)? The Castro brothers, Julian and Joaquin [of Texas], are impressive. They’re clearly gifted. Julian Castro showed at the Democratic National Convention that he has the gift, he connects with people. It could be someone else. I look back to 2008, no one would have guessed [at one time] that Barack Obama would have run and won.