By Bender Bending Gonzalez
If there was one recurring theme at last night’s Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 33rd Annual Gala, it was the Dream Act and inherently immigration reform. One by one, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and of course President Barack Obama took the stage and delivered the usual “si se puede” and quoted facts such as “Hispanics are the largest growing segment of the population” and “Hispanics have the largest number of business entrepreneurs”. If you have read the Pew Hispanic Center reports dating back to 2002, these facts should not be new to you, but I guess we all need to be reminded of the things we see and live on an everyday basis. After all, this is Hispanic Heritage Month!
As I walked to my hotel room I kept thinking to myself: “I feel so bad for Harry Reid.” The poor guy is fighting to keep his Senate seat in a political climate in which moderate republicans are loosing elections to Tea Party candidates backed by Sarah Palin for Christ sakes. It seems like the candidate’s level of extremism dictates their popularity. The Dream Act could be the single most important piece of legislation in U.S. history to positively impact the Hispanic community. But it almost seems like a “lose-lose” situation for Senator Reid and the Democratic Party. The Senator has committed to introducing the Dream Act next week, and all the speakers at the gala were optimistic about its chances of passing. I really don’t believe so, given the recent election results and the buzz here in Washington is all about how Republicans are going to regain control of the House. Reid is stuck between a rock and a hard place; and to our community, he’ll be both a hero and a villain. A hero for having the courage to bring the legislation to the Senate floor for a vote and a villain because once again we’ll be left with empty promises.
So where are our so called Latino leaders in Congress in all of this? Why don’t they stick out their necks just like Senator Reid is doing? Could it be that putting a Hispanic face to the legislation would cause middle America to freak out even more so than they already are? “You see honey, I told you they were taking over, now they want to give their children access to our universities, while I never even had a chance to go to college and I’m a citizen – I’m voting for the other guy.” That must be their recurring nightmare as they wake up drenched in cold sweat thinking of what they would do with their lives if they had to give up being “el mero mero”.
The second person I felt sorry for was President Obama, but to a lesser degree. I like President Obama, but his speech last night sounded like the same thing I heard two years ago in the campaign trail. Let’s give him credit for appointing Latinos and Latinas to his cabinet, to the Supreme Court, and to important positions all over his administration. In fact, he has appointed more Latinos/as than any other president in history. But that hasn’t translated into the passing of the Dream Act or any sort of comprehensive immigration reform. He and the rest of our “politico” friends were just dangling these issues in front of us, and the crowd acted like the skinny dog dying for a bone. But the truth is, he can’t do it alone, he needs our Congressional Latino Leaders to step-up to the plate, to mobilize, and to “bite the bullet”. Will they be brave enough to do it? Who knows, but I’m going to bet that they won’t.
In the meantime, I am looking forward to watching Senator Harry “el valiente” Reid bring the Dream Act forward for a vote next week and do something that our own Hispanic representatives should have taken ownership of years ago (for more information about the CHC’s reluctance to take on the DREAM Act separately from comprehensive immigration reform see this and this). We have Congressional leaders in California, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and New York, and what do they deliver for us? Let’s just say that Latino elected officials are just like beer. So many choices and flavors, and it makes so little difference in the end. All together now, hurray for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus!
Webmaster’s note: Bender Bending Gonzalez has over ten years of experience in government relations, holds a master’s degree in public policy, and will be occasionally contributing blog posts. He attended last night’s CHCI gala.