As part of their "escalation" against Democrats in the wake of President Obama's delay of executive action on immigration, a pair of young unauthorized immigrants ("DREAMers") confronted Hillary Clinton at an event in Iowa yesterday, and asked for her opinion on Obama's delay. Hillary was initially enthusiastic about the exchange, but as the DREAMers pressed on, she got impatient; finally, she cut the conversation short by saying "We need to elect more Democrats" and walking away.
Immigration advocates aren't at all pleased with Clinton's answer. That's not surprising — in fact, it was possibly the most tone-deaf thing she could have said.
Advocates are still recovering from the announcement of Obama's delay, which they saw as a crushing disappointment — and the latest in a long line of broken promises from Democratic officials. From my article last week:
Even several days after the announcement, the prevailing mood among immigration advocates was that they felt devastated, and betrayed. "When your supposed friends break multiple promises, it feels really shitty. That's just a basic human reaction," says Frank Sharry, the executive director of immigration-advocacy group America's Voice. [...]
Advocates are taking the delay so personally that they're struggling to focus on how to respond. "It's obvious that all of us in the community, and working on the issue of immigration reform, need time to lick our wounds before moving forward," says Ben Monterroso, the director of voter-mobilization group Mi Familia Vota. Sharry adds that "a lot of community groups are really pissed and haven't figured out what to do about it."
Advocates feel they've tried "electing more Democrats" — for nothing
Immigration advocates point out that Democrats from President Obama on down have promised Latinos that putting a Democrat in the White House would result in relief for millions of immigrant families. So advocates feel they, and Latino voters, have spent the last several electoral cycles fighting to keep Democrats in office — working for Obama's election in 2008 and 2012, and helping save the Senate for the Democrats in 2010 — to make sure that promise comes true. And in return, they feel, the President has broken promises he's made to their community, from 2008 to today, and lectured them hat the time isn't right for Democrats to take broad action against deportation.
So the question facing immigration reformers right now isn't how to get the right people in office so that immigration reform will become possible. They feel they've done that already, and it apparently hasn't been enough.
The DREAMers — like the ones who confronted Clinton over the weekend — feel that Democrats have squandered the trust of their community. Now, they believe it's their job to force politicians to care about them and their families. As I wrote last week:
Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez describes United We Dream as "fiercely nonpartisan." When asked about the administration's latest promise to announce executive action by the end of 2014, he responds, "We don't trust them."
"Our position is that we will hold accountable people who stand in the way of progress. And sometimes those people are the president," he says.[...]
"I think the DREAMers will do stuff that makes the Democrats extremely uncomfortable," says Sharry. "That's just their way."
The reason DREAMers were in Iowa last weekend to begin with was because they didn't feel that Hillary Clinton would take the needs of their community seriously if they weren't there to raise the question to her. They were there because they feel "elect more Democrats" is the wrong answer.
To understand where the DREAMers are coming from, it's important to understand that they don't see "hold politicians accountable" and "elect more Democrats" as opposites. My article from last week explains the way that immigrant advocates understand their relationship with the Democratic Party, and why they feel that Democrats need to start taking them more seriously.