National Voices

Wednesday, Dec 12 2012 11:00 PM

ESTHER CEPEDA: Immigrants knock at GOP's door for reform

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    Esther Cepeda

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CHICAGO -- Based on the post-election coverage of the immigration issue, you'd think that Republicans have no reason to believe they can ever get Latino voters to pay attention to them.

As the prevailing narrative goes, the GOP will soon be extinct since President Obama has promised yet again to lead Hispanics to long-awaited comprehensive immigration reform. The view from the president's hometown is slightly different, however. In the last few days, several of Chicago's Hispanic leaders have publicly criticized Obama for again being all talk and no action on immigration.

Last Friday, despite a Los Angeles Times article citing unnamed White House sources predicting an immigration push in mid-January, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., told The Hill newspaper that the president has gone AWOL when it comes to immigration reform discussions.

"When senators from both parties and members of the House are talking, when you have the Senate majority leader and (House) Speaker (John) Boehner both saying that this is an important priority, who's the one missing? The president," said Gutierrez. With no election-year party unity restraining him, look to Gutierrez to become one of Obama's loudest critics should the president even appear to slack on his campaign promise.

Gutierrez isn't the only one wondering why raids on homes and workplaces by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and continued deportations of undocumented workers -- the tally for 2012 stood at 366,292 through Aug. 25 -- rarely merit news coverage amid all the stories of how the president and the Democrats are immigrants' true allies.

Even faith leaders are showing disbelief in the president's ability to deliver what he promised. Last week, a coalition of them told reporters at a news conference that Obama has 92 days after the inauguration to introduce a reform plan. The Rev. Jose Landaverde, a Chicago-based priest and immigration reform activist, laughed that notion off when I spoke with him. Landaverde, who heads Our Lady of Guadalupe Anglican Catholic Church in Little Village, the city's largest enclave of Mexican immigrants, spent last week sending out impassioned news releases criticizing the president for letting ICE unleash "a post-election surge of raids to randomly pick up undocumented workers" even as Obama promises Latinos relief from family separation.

"The president lies to us. These raids go against his call for prosecutorial discretion for immigrants with no criminal records, but every week I have families whose members are picked up and sent away to detention centers where no one can find them," Landaverde said. "That certainly was not the mandate he received in the recent election. That's not what he promised."

Living at ground zero of the strife that the current immigration laws breed, Landaverde said he's fed up with Obama's double-talk -- some of which is well-received in the Latino community because it's delivered in Spanish. Plus, he said, he is sick of the Democrats' continued assurances that their party is the true champion of immigrants and tired of the "empty promises" from large immigrant advocacy organizations such as the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights or the National Council of La Raza. Landaverde says such groups are actually more focused on amassing their own political power than on the people who stand to benefit from real reform.

The priest said it's time to send a message to the people he thinks could make the most difference in this impasse: Republicans.

Echoing others who have called on the GOP to open a meaningful dialogue with Latino voters through grass-roots community outreach, Landaverde said, "I want the Republicans to come talk to the real people who are affected daily by this lack of reform. Forget the Democrats, forget the big advocacy groups -- let them come talk to the leaders at the churches and the neighborhood coalitions and the people in the community.

"I can't guarantee that if a reform passes with Republican help that Latinos will automatically vote for them, but if anyone really wants to cut through the hypocrisy of the Democrats who speak to us in our language but never seem to get anything done, come talk to us. We will listen to anyone who is willing to talk about answering a plea for human dignity."

The GOP really should take Landaverde's advice and consider now the ideal moment to lead a revival of compassionate conservatism.

Email Esther J. Cepeda of The Washington Post Writers Group at estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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