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Commentary: Clueless on immigration in the U.S.

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opinion Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

SAN DIEGO -- Just in time for Cinco de Mayo -- or as President Obama mistakenly referred to it at a White House reception last year marking the Mexican holiday, "Cinco de Cuatro" -- the chief executive is delivering a clear message to the nation's embattled Latino community: "You're on your own, amigos."

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The nicest thing you can say is that Obama is failing to deal with one of the great moral issues of our time: immigration reform. The not-so-nice version is that Obama is subverting the immigration reform cause to get congressional Democrats off the hook in an election year when their prospects are shaky.

Latino Democrats have been telling themselves that the reason Obama broke his campaign promise to work for immigration reform in his first year is because he had a full plate of other issues. They swallowed every disappointment -- when the administration kept up the policy of raiding workplaces, when Obama dedicated just 37 words to immigration in his State of the Union address, when it was revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses quotas to ratchet up the number of deportations.

In the latest setback, activists are quietly fuming that Obama couldn't summon a stronger word than "misguided" to describe Arizona's racial profiling law -- something for which The New York Times editorial page also took Obama to task.

Why would this surprise anyone? Obama has a poor record on immigration. As a senator, he joined Democratic leader Harry Reid in trying to kill an immigration reform bill with poison pill amendments -- all to please organized labor, which preferred no bill to one with guest workers.

Obama has also been more than willing to play politics with the immigration issue for short-term gain.

Now, a line has been crossed. On Air Force One a few days ago, Obama went from not helping the cause of comprehensive immigration reform to actually hurting it. In a rare visit to the press section of the plane, Obama threw cold water on the prospect of Congress overhauling immigration laws this year -- and in doing so, cut the legs out from underneath immigration reform proponents.

Submitting that "there may not be an appetite" to repair the broken immigration system this year, Obama tried to portray Republicans as the problem. Forget that Democrats run the show at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Obama claimed that he needs Republican votes to pass immigration reform, and, rather than go it alone with only Democratic support, he's willing to wait for GOP lawmakers.

Good luck. Obama knows full well that the Republicans won't help him cross the street until after November. Besides, where was this insistence on waiting for Republican support when the cause was health care reform? There, the president forged ahead without the GOP.

Mr. President, you picked a fine time to go AWOL. The enactment of the Arizona racial profiling law, which subjects Latinos to second-class treatment and harassment, makes it vital that the White House and Congress take on the immigration issue in order to provide illegal immigrants with a federal cloak of protection against abuses in Arizona.

This looks familiar. Numerous historians have noted that John F. Kennedy was no friend to the civil rights movement early in his presidency because he worried it would torpedo his legislative agenda. He even ordered Attorney General Robert Kennedy to try to convince activists to forgo the freedom rides that challenged Jim Crow laws in the South. It wasn't until May 1963, when television brought into American homes the disturbing images of police dogs and fire hoses being turned on demonstrators in Birmingham, Ala., that Kennedy finally started coming around. On June 11, 1963, the president -- in a national address broadcast on radio and television -- described civil rights as "a moral issue ... as old as the Scriptures and ... as clear as the American Constitution."

Better late than never. For a time, Kennedy was, by virtue of his life experience, clueless when it came to the issue of civil rights. Now Obama is making similar mistakes because he is just as clueless about immigration.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is rnavarrette@wctrib.com.

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