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Commentary: Obama is working a sting on Latino voters in America

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SAN DIEGO -- In "The Sting," a classic 1973 film about a pair of con men, each chapter is introduced with an old-fashioned title card such as "The Set-Up" or "The Hook."

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To really understand the elaborate con job that President Obama is pulling on Latino voters over the immigration issue, here are some title cards you might find useful:

THE PROMISE -- Obama goes before several Latino groups during the 2008 campaign and makes what everyone thought at the moment was a sincere pledge to treat reforming the immigration system as a top priority.

THE COMPARISON -- Painting himself as a kinder and gentler alternative to George W. Bush, Obama -- in remarks that will later haunt him -- bemoans when "communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids, when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing."

THE RESCUE -- After Arizona adopts a tough immigration law, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threatens to respond by restarting the debate over immigration reform, Obama puts the kibosh on Reid's plans by announcing to reporters that there is no appetite in Congress to take on the issue. In doing so, he throws a life preserver to conservative Democrats in the Senate who would have been reluctant to vote for reform.

THE DECEPTION -- Five of those conservative Democrats -- Mark Pryor, Max Baucus, Kay Hagan, Jon Tester and Ben Nelson -- then later kill the Dream Act by voting against cloture. But Reid and the White House, with an assist from the media, successfully frame Republicans as the culprit.

THE WAITING -- Realizing he can't even start the debate over immigration reform without driving a wedge between two loyal Democratic constituencies -- organized labor and Latinos -- Obama needs a foil. But he won't get one until John Boehner and Republicans take control of the House in January 2011.

THE TRAP -- Shortly after declaring his intention to run for re-election, Obama sets a trap for Republicans in 2012 by pulling the immigration issue off the back burner on the assumption that the GOP will continue its tradition of dealing with the issue in a cruel and clumsy way. The Republicans perform as expected.

THE BOAST -- Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano brags that the border is more secure than ever and that the administration has deported about 400,000 illegal immigrant per year since taking office. By removing 1,000 illegal immigrants per day, it should reach the 1-million mark by Labor Day.

THE DISSIDENT -- Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., perhaps the most outspoken champion of immigrants' rights in Congress, launches a 20-city tour called "The Campaign for American Children and Families" to draw attention to the deportations and pressure Obama to freeze them with regard to two groups: undocumented parents with U.S.-born children, and so-called Dream Act students who might have qualified for the program, which swaps college attendance or military service for legal residency, if only Congress had passed the bill.

THE STALL -- Obama agrees to meet with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to hear their concerns over the high number of deportations. But first, in a farcical attempt to find another group of Hispanics that could act as a counterweight to the caucus, Obama invites a contingent of Hispanic celebrities to the White House to discuss immigration. Move over, Beer Summit. Welcome to the Margarita Mixer.

THE SMOKE SCREEN -- Obama's message to the celebrities and to a group of "stakeholders" who attended an earlier immigration meeting is that he supports comprehensive immigration reform but can't pass it without help from Republicans. He urges them to pressure the GOP to get behind reform. The problem is that the most urgent immigration-related issue in the country at the moment isn't the reform agenda but the spike in deportations. And the reason Obama won't talk about this is because it's a matter for the executive branch, which he controls, and so he can't very well blame Republicans for standing in the way of some desired policy goal.

THE SHOW -- Obama goes to El Paso to pose in front of the border wall and, in his own "Mission Accomplished" moment, declares the border more secure than ever. He also tries to put Republicans on the defensive by calling for immigration reform -- the very thing that he has spent the first 28 months of his presidency trying to avoid.

Don't look now, Latinos. But you've been stung.

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

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