Barack Obama is the first Latino president. Aside from the fact he could easily pass for Puerto Rican or Dominican because of everything from his complexion to his easy nature and physical grace, he was largely elected by the Latino community. Two out of three Hispanics voted for him, providing the margin of victory in key states Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, Florida, Colorado and elsewhere.
Given the breath-taking surge in the Latino population, I said confidently in November 2008 that if the community continued to turnout and vote for Obama and other Democrats at the same ratio, "there may never be another Republican president." At least until the GOP moderated its position on immigration reform.
Imagine the community's disappointment then, when after election Senor Presidente seemed to forget the critical voting bloc that swept him into the Oval Office. Everything from health care to bailing out car companies and banks to financial reform took priority; not to mention unavoidable distractions like Afghanistan, the oil spill, the tsunami and the endless string of killer tornadoes.
In all the contentious shouting up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, scarcely a whisper came from the White House about that issue dragging heavily on the Hispanic psyche, the fate of those millions of frightened, undocumented immigrants waiting for the hard knock on the door signaling the catastrophe of deportation.
Indeed, as the president moved aggressively to strengthen border security and increase the tempo of deportations, it seemed as if simpatico Dr. Jekyll had morphed into cruel Mr. Hyde.
Was this the same candidate we identified with so instinctively or was this Tom Tancredo in Brown Face?
But wait was there method to this madness?
His hand strengthened by his bold decision to launch the heroic raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, and following an appropriate victory/thank you lap to Ground Zero and Fort Campbell, where he met SEAL Team Six (including one sailor who is reportedly the Mexican American son of immigrants), the president chose finally to stake out his position on immigration.
He did it in a stirring El Paso Texas speech delivered Tuesday within sight of the deeply troubled Mexican border. There, eliciting groans from an audience largely sympathetic to immigrant rights, the president highlighted all the harsh, but effective moves he has taken to crush illegal immigration.
He talked firmly about the increased tempo of deportations, a doubled Border Patrol, and a virtually completed border fence.
It was so pro-enforcement, he sounded like he was speaking to a Tea Party convention. Then, after touting the success of his tough measures in reducing illegal migration, he made a turn so smooth it might get him re-elected or at least re-loved by Latinos; he called out the enforcement-only crowd.
"We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader (immigration) reform as long as we got serious about enforcement."
After suggesting that even everything he's done will still not be considered enforcement enough by Republicans, he wise cracked, "maybe they'll need a moat (along the border). Maybe they'll want alligators in the moat!"
President Obama then sketched the broad outlines of a plan eventually to create a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented. And he called on Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would grant a path to citizenship to innocent youngsters brought into the USA by their parents, upon completion by the kids of a hitch in the military or two years college education.
"These are kids who grew up in this country," he said. "They love this country. They know no other place to call home. The idea that we'd punish them is cruel. It makes no sense."
The DREAM Act was defeated last year by a Republican filibuster, and probably will be again.
But there is something the president can do regardless of congressional intransigence.
Before Latinos welcome him back, and promise to march back to the polls in 2012, the community should insist that he put his political capital where his mouth is and use his broad discretionary power to order federal authorities immediately to cease and desist deportation of any undocumented student or soldier who would be protected under the proposed terms of the DREAM Act.
Let the feds instead concentrate on expelling crooks, gangsters and drug dealers.
Leave the kids alone Mr. President; liberate your inner Latinismo.
Geraldo Rivera is Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino.