Im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivists in­creas­ingly dis­il­lu­sioned with Democrats

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The heady sense of victory im­mi­grant rights ac­tivists had last year af­ter Pres­i­dent Obama an­nounced his de­por­ta­tion amnesty has faded in re­cent weeks as the ad­vo­cates sense they’ve lost ground among the very Demo­cratic lead­ers they were count­ing on to de­liver at the na­tional and state lev­els.

The lat­est blow came in New York, where Gov. An­drew Cuomo has scrapped plans for a statelevel Dream Act grant­ing in-state tu­ition to il­le­gal im­mi­grants as part of the bud­get — spawn­ing a hunger strike from young il­le­gal im­mi­grants who ex­pected him to come through.

Na­tion­ally, mean­while, Mr. Obama is tak­ing fire af­ter his im­mi­gra­tion ser­vice ear­lier this month de­ported a Men­non­ite pas­tor with Amer­i­can cit­i­zen chil­dren who had been living with­out au­tho­riza­tion for years, but who came to agents’ at­ten­tion be­cause of a drunken driv­ing con­vic­tion from the 1990s.

Ac­tivists said that de­por­ta­tion broke the rules Mr. Obama him­self laid out in Novem­ber, when he said he wanted to kick out “felons, not fam­i­lies.”

“It goes to who re­ally are our cham­pi­ons. That’s disillusioning a lot of the elec­torate,” said Ce­sar Var­gas, co-direc­tor of the Dream Ac­tion Coali­tion. “Democrats would like to make peo­ple be­lieve that Repub­li­cans have a Latino prob­lem. Well, Democrats are def­i­nitely fac­ing a Latino prob­lem that many of them aren’t even aware of.”

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the pres­i­dent and im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates has al­ways been rocky, dat­ing back to his vote as a se­na­tor to build the bor­der fence, and then ex­tend­ing to his fail­ure to make good on his cam­paign prom­ise to tackle im­mi­gra­tion re­form his first year in of­fice.

Mr. Obama had ap­peared to smooth things over in Novem­ber when he by­passed Congress and an­nounced ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions to grant a tem­po­rary de­por­ta­tion amnesty and work per­mits to mil­lions of im­mi­grants in the coun­try il­le­gally. At the same time Mr. Obama also an­nounced new en­force­ment pri­or­i­ties that were sup­posed to lower the chances of de­por­ta­tion for mil­lions of other il­le­gal im­mi­grants — though they would not be el­i­gi­ble for the work per­mits in­cluded in his broader amnesty.

Buoyed by that suc­cess, and by polls that sug­gest the public is in­creas­ingly ac­cept­ing of le­gal­iz­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants, ac­tivists turned to states, press­ing for leg­is­la­tion to grant in-state tu­ition to il­le­gal im­mi­grants, known as the Dream Act.

New York was a par­tic­u­lar tar­get, with a Demo­cratic gover­nor in Mr. Cuomo vow­ing to use the state bud­get to make it hap­pen this year.

In the span of a few weeks, how­ever, Mr. Obama’s im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy was halted by a fed­eral judge, his agents de­ported Pas­tor Max Vil­la­toro — the Men­non­ite cleric who was sent to his na­tive Hon­duras on March 20 — and Mr. Cuomo failed to se­cure pas­sage of the Dream Act in New York.

“I would def­i­nitely agree that there’s some deep dis­il­lu­sion­ment and dis­ap­point­ment,” said Manuel Cas­tro, im­mi­gra­tion cam­paign co­or­di­na­tor for the New York Im­mi­gra­tion Coali­tion.

Mr. Cas­tro said they will have to wait for more de­tails about the New York ne­go­ti­a­tions to come out be­fore know­ing where the agree­ment broke down — though early press re­ports said the As­sem­bly speaker, a Demo­crat, squelched a deal that would have cou­pled the Dream Act to an ed­u­ca­tion tax credit.

But the loss of the Dream Act goes to the heart of the im­mi­gra­tion move­ment, where so-called Dream­ers, il­le­gal im­mi­grants brought to the coun­try as chil­dren, are viewed as the most sym­pa­thetic fig­ures in the de­bate.

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