Anatomy of an Immigration Debate: Presidential Carne Asada at NCLR

Latinos are often described as a “friendly” audience for Democrats and Barack Obama. Therefore it was surprising when the President threw out some “red meat” to rev up the simpaticos at the annual convention of the National Council of La Raza in Washington, DC.

Instead: Sizzle!  It, and he, got a little scorched, in effect turning some of that red meat into carne asada.

President Barack Obama at the NCLR 2011 Annual Conference

President Barack Obama at NCLR Courtesy: @Marisabel81

The President began and focused on the federal debt ceiling, economy recovery, and jobs, a strong indication that contrary to what his opponents say, Obama has his finger on the pulse of Americans’ anxieties.  This week’s Quinnipiac University survey of Ohio shows that 58% of voters polled disapprove of the President’s handling of the economy, even though the Buckeye state’s unemployment rate decreased to 8.6% from 10.6% in February of 2010.  Going into the 2012 election, you can interpret this as the President’s Achilles’ heel: if surveyed Ohioans are upset with the dearth of jobs, imagine the country: the national unemployment rate has dropped an anemic 0.5 points from 9.7 to 9.2%.

The President did not get to immigration–the issue most identified with Latinos–until about 15 minutes into his speech.  His protests that he can’t change the laws or that he needs Congressional leadership (he does) were met with revolt.  Some in the crowd interrupted Obama with chants of “Yes You Can,” a direct dig and twist of his 2008 campaign slogan “Yes We Can” which can be traced to “Sí Se Puede,” Cesar Chavez’s call to action when he began organizing farm workers in the 1960s.  Nearly 20 DREAMers (a term that defines students and service members brought illegally to the U.S. as children, and risk or are in the process of being deported, but hope for citizenship if the DREAM Act passes) wore T-shirts with this message “Obama Deports DREAMers”.  Indeed, this is the moment when the pent-up frustration, fear, and disappointment of broken promises burned some of the red meat and the President who threw it on the grill.

DREAMers at NCLR conference

DREAMers at NCLR Courtesy: @bestillplease

Interestingly, a straw poll conducted by NCLR revealed that 45% of attendees surveyed consider immigration a top issue affecting Latinos.  Although I’m skeptical of straw polls (Mitt Romney won the historic Ame’s Straw Poll in Iowa only to lose the 2008 Republican nomination to Senator John McCain), these results reveal the complexity of Hispanic voters: they are not a “one trick”–in this case immigration–pony.  Hispanics care about jobs, education, health care, social security, topics the President amply discussed.  But here’s the rub: Latino voters–a complex and slippery voting block because of its diversity and historic low turnout–put a premium on immigration reform because the xenophobic tenor of the debate negatively impacts us all–legal, illegal, sixth generation New Mexican; whether we’re Cuban and automatically get asylum when the foot touches U.S. soil or university-educated South Americans pursuing graduate degrees in U.S. universities.  New Jersey ending health insurance for legal, payroll, tax-paying immigrants is just one example of governmental and personal initiatives that target and discriminate against all immigrants, and in broad strokes, Latinos.

I interviewed Jorge Ramos in 2009 for ABC News about Obama’s appearance on Al Punto, the first time a U.S. President went on a Spanish-language Sunday public affairs shows.  When I asked Jorge about Latinos’ dissatisfaction with Obama for failing to deliver immigration reform within his first year, the anchor and host said that while the leader of the free world needs Hispanics to win in 2012, they need him: “The only hope for twelve million undocumented workers is Barack Obama.”

The fact that Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, and Newt Gingrich–potential 2012 GOP nominees–declined NCLR’s invitation seems to prove this point.  Then again, if they had shown face, the backdraft from an audience, exhausted with being vilified by factions of the Republican party, may have charred them into beef jerky.

Click to read more of my posts on politics and immigration.



  1. says

    my issue is that we want all this reform, albeit much needed, but you point out that we do in fct have low turn out! Why is that…. Why aren’t we voting? Why aren’t we lobbying more? we can’t cry beef jerky and not vote!

  2. Brittanicus says


    Has any American thought to question the Liberals and Democrats, why they think the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act is broken? Is so, like any bill–why cannot be amended, as they are able with any law that passes through Congress? Again, the next question is why these people in the Senate are pushing for another Amnesty, when such an event would injure the American people adding to the bleeding national deficit. Even if the Congress found the votes to pass another Amnesty, isn’t it incredulously pathetic to add another 2.5 Trillion to the US treasury 14.5 Trillion dollars deficit. This is according to the Heritage Foundation Robert Rector’s projection, after analyzing the 1986 volume Amnesty that cost only 76 Billion dollars. Are you willing to have your tax dollars spent on legitimizing every person who breaks our laws? For over three decades nothing has been done, in fact the Simpson/Mazzoli bill was an absolute failure.


    The world of Academia have stated in many publications, that is mostly Liberal progressive oriented media that immigration of any kind, is good for the economy? They insult Californians, Arizonians; Nevadans legal residents burgeoned down with a never ending influx of poverty, which taxpayers are–FORCED– to sustain. Fair’s statement is, “American taxpayers spend $113 billion annually subsidizing illegal immigration and padding the pockets of businesses addicted to cheap labor. Taxpayers at the state and local levels bear the brunt, providing $84 billion in services annually while the federal government spends $29 billion. In some states, reducing the fiscal burden of illegal immigration would represent nothing short of an economic miracle: The latter figure is — incidentally — almost exactly equal to the interest payment on the total federal debt this past April. Of course, the debt continues to grow uncontrollably because the government must borrow to keep up with, among other things, the growing cost of illegal immigration.

    The report examines the likely consequences if an amnesty for the illegal alien population were adopted similar to the one adopted in 1986.Estimates are in–BILLIONS–of dollars. This is also based on only 13 million foreign nationals squatting here. The full report is available in pdf format.

    Federal Expenditures on Illegal Aliens

    Education Title 1 program $1,332,900,000
    Migrant education program $236,900,000
    Title 111 program $538,000,000

    Education Subtotal $2,107,800,000

    Medical Emergency medical care $250,000,000
    Fraudulent use of Medicaid $1,235,000,000
    Medicaid cost of childbirth $1,238,100,000
    Medicaid for children $1,626,800,000
    other medical outlays $1,600,000,000

    Medical Subtotal $5,949,900,000

    Law enforcement Scaap compensation $330,000,000
    Federal incarceration $678,400,000
    Byrne grants $24,300,000
    Detention and removal $2,545,000,000
    Project safe neighborhoods $39,500,000

    Residual ice functions $2,824,000,000
    Exec. Office of immigration review $222,500,000
    Southwest border prosecution $33,000,000
    National Guard $642,000,000
    Coast Guard $500,000,000

    Law Enforcement Subtotal $7,838,700,000

    Public assistance Free and reduced meal program $2,264,600,000
    Temporary assist. Needy families $1,030,000,000
    Housing assistance programs $637,000,000
    Child care & development fund $633,000,000
    Public Assistance Subtotal $4,564,600,000

    General expenditures $8,184,400,000

    TOTAL $28B, 645,400,000

    State/Local Expenditures on Illegal Aliens ($ M)

    Alabama $298 Illinois $4B,592 Montana $32 Rhode Island $278
    Alaska $139 Indiana $608 Nebraska $262 S. Carolina $391
    Arizona $2B,569 Iowa $350 Nevada $1B,191 S. Dakota $33
    Arkansas $244 Kansas $442 New Hampshire $123 Tennessee $547
    California $21B,756 Kentucky $280 New Jersey $3B,478 Texas $8,878
    Colorado $1,451 Louisiana $224 New Mexico $608 Utah $453
    Connecticut $957 Maine $41 New York $9B,479 Vermont $38
    Wash D.C. $312 Maryland $1B,724 N. Carolina $2B,063 Virginia $1B,905
    Delaware $305 Massachusetts. $1B,862 N. Dakota $32 Washington State $1B,510
    Florida $5B,463 Michigan $929 Ohio $563 W. Virginia. $31
    Georgia $2B,399 Minnesota. $744 Oklahoma $465 Wisconsin $883
    Hawaii $155 Mississippi. $106 Oregon $705 Wyoming $51
    Idaho $188 Missouri $338 Penn. $1B,378 TOTAL $83B,851


    Category federal State/local

    Income -$2,302,800,000 $244,200,000
    Social security $7,000,000,000
    Medicare tax $1,637,100,000
    Excise and miscellaneous $2,489,700,000
    Employer (FUTA & income) $632,600,000
    Property tax $1,378,000,000
    Sales tax $2,333,000,000

    TOTAL $9B, 456,600,000 $3B, 955,200,000

    Fair also provided, “The savings can’t be realized overnight because much of the expense is mandated by law requiring the education of the children of illegal aliens, many of whom are U.S. born, and for emergency medical treatment. But it is a responsible step in the right direction. Reducing these costs requires the administration to actually enforce existing immigration laws, complete border fencing, allow states to participate in the enforcement process, and otherwise deny benefits and incentives to illegal aliens. Fewer than 6 percent of legal immigrants were admitted because they possessed skills deemed essential to the U.S. economy. Most are admitted because of family ties to earlier immigrants, many of whom are living in poverty or near poverty. As a result, immigration bloats an already-existing surplus of low-skilled workers, increasing job competition and driving down wages for American workers.


  3. Monica says

    Great article. How ironic that this president is saying “he can’t” – that’s 180, isn’t it? I totally agree that all this anti-immigrant rhetoric is having far reaching effects on all Latinos. And it is because my children are 7th generation Mexican Americans that I continue to pray and fight for our country to do the right thing.

  4. David Ferreira says

    I felt so proud of our community today during the lunch for holding the President’s feet to the fire. Asi es que ganan otras comunidades … we can’t keep up the good time charlie act, where we are always beaming a smile for the candidate photo ops with mariachis in tow. Don’t get me wrong, I think highly President Obama and would like to see him reelected, but we have to ensure that anyone we elect is held to delivering on promises to our community.

    Also, that Brittanicus fella keeps pushing Numbers USA and FAIR info. I remind folks that the Southern Poverty Law Center has show the ties between these and other groups founded and funded by Tanton, and their links to white nationalism and supremacy.

  5. says

    Immigration is not an issue unique to Latinos — that is, many other groups are also affected by immigration reform — but it is a uniquely Latino issue (for the reasons you name). I also find it imperative that comprehensive immigration reform (and not just the DREAM Act) take place in the near future and yet, Obama is right. He certainly can’t do it alone. The issue is complicated, and the numbers listed above by Brittanicus are quite skewed. Latinos need to get out and vote to make sure this issue — as well as others — are resolved and address our needs. Great article!

  6. says

    Great article! Will definitely share with my FB friends.
    It’s true what many have stated – We need to get out and vote. So many people (not only Latinos) are quick to complain about our government, however do nothing to ensure their voices and concerns are heard.

  7. says

    Agree, apathy and indifference are very dangerous. We need to get the vote out in our community. I know Obama has disappointed in many ways but he at least shows up to get cooked. I think we do need to see more “I can do” attitude from Obama. This yes we can feels a bit too “no we can’t really right” now.

  8. says

    I have to agree with Jorge Ramos that we do need Obama right now. but we need to let him know we need him by showing up to vote and by making him accountable.

  9. says

    Viviana Hurtado for President! – Or least the Senate ;)

    Actually I do have a simple message for the President, quoting Maya Angelou: DO THE RIGHT THING, CARAMBA (well… I threw in that last word.)

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