Fresh off of another election victory, President Obama is talking about making immigration reform a top priority shortly after being inaugurated again. If you think this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. In 2008, then Senator Obama made many campaign promises for immigration reform including introducing a comprehensive immigration bill in his first year. Despite the fact these promises were never delivered on, the Hispanic vote increased for Obama in 2012. After being given a chance to correct his failures, President Obama must make immigration reform a top priority or risk alienating the fastest growing voter demographic heading into 2014 and 2016.
The most glaring broken promise was not introducing a comprehensive immigration bill in his first year. Instead, the administration made the choice to make healthcare reform their top priority. Maybe they didn’t calculate how difficult healthcare reform would be, coming off a landslide victory that helped give Democrats complete control of Congress. That decision didn’t just drop immigration down a slot; rather it was punted downfield and pinned at the goal line.
President Obama’s lack of leadership on immigration continued with the Dream Act. In early December 2010, after seeing the Republicans make huge gains, the Dream Act did pass the House. The decision to focus on healthcare had cost the President, and the Senate no longer had the filibuster proof control it needed to make the Dream Act a reality. Regardless of the mid-term election outcome, the President made no serious push to get the Senate to move on the bill. It is unclear if a push would have made a difference, but without it, Hispanics had to be left wondering what happened with the promises of 2008.
The failures of the President on immigration weren’t just about policy. The most egregious failure was the fact that there were more deportations in the first term than under any other presidency. The numbers are staggering as they reached almost 400,000 a year, which was double the annual average under President Bush. This combined with the policy errors has made the first term a failure on immigration reform.
Interestingly, despite these drastic failures, Hispanics continued to support the President over the Republicans. Heading into the election, poll numbers showed Romney was having trouble making headway with this voting block. On Election Day, Hispanics voted for President Obama in greater numbers than they did in 2008.
Despite the failures of his first term, President Obama is armed with increased support from Hispanics, placing incredible pressure on him to deliver during his second term. Hispanics are the fastest growing electorate, and they could hold the key to future elections. If Obama fails to deliver for a second time on promises made to Hispanics, he may be handing their support to Republicans. No one can expect for this demographic to suffer through more alienation and still keep their support where it is. If there are no changes in the approach of the current administration, Democrats could lose the Hispanic vote, which is why President Obama must make immigration reform a top priority in 2013.