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Obama Continues to Play Hispanics on Immigration Issue

President Obama recently inflamed passions on both sides of the immigration debate with a pre-election day appearance on the Univision radio show hosted by the enormously popular Eddie “El Piolin” Sotelo.

At one point, Sotelo questioned Obama’s commitment to immigration reform and offered that as a possible explanation for why the president hasn’t kept his promise to make it a top priority in his administration. The president took the easy way out and simply returned to the Democratic playbook of blaming the GOP. Obama tried to convince the show’s listeners that, even though Democrats control both houses in Congress (for now), they are nonetheless powerless to move the needle on immigration reform without the support of Republicans.

That’s ridiculous. Democrats have the capability to do much more than they’ve done, but the reason they won’t do more is because passing immigration reform as it is commonly discussed — i.e., with a guest worker component — is unacceptable to a powerful constituency that Democrats won’t challenge under any circumstance: organized labor.

Besides, if Obama wants to tell the story of the immigration reform debate, he should at least tell it right. He seems to have forgotten that, while serving in the Senate during the 2006 debate over immigration reform, he himself proposed “poison pill” amendments intended to kill bipartisan legislation.

The following year, the Senate debated the exceptionally well-crafted Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. One of the chief architects of the bill was Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ, and the legislation had a half dozen Republican sponsors. During the debate, Sen. David Vitter, R-LA, proposed an amendment that would have stripped away the language calling for illegal immigrants to be given visas so they could remain in the country legally. That amendment was defeated by a vote of 29 to 66; those casting the “no” votes included 26 Republicans.

Still, in the world according to Obama, the GOP is always to blame. And it’s up to Latino voters to, as he told Sotelo, punish their enemies and reward their friends.

But luckily, the host didn’t let Obama pass the buck to the GOP. Sotelo reminded the president that he was able to pass health care reform because he put his shoulder to the wheel and made it happen. Why can’t Obama do that with immigration reform, Sotelo wanted to know.

Good question. The answer is obvious: It’s because Obama actually cared about achieving health care reform. But he doesn’t care about immigration reform. It’s always an afterthought with this president, and only tends to come to mind when Obama finds himself addressing a Latino group and looking for dependable applause lines.

And when Obama insisted that he can’t accomplish immigration reform alone and that he needs partners, Sotelo reminded him that he had put together a group of leaders in the immigration movement and reached out to the White House. But, Sotelo said, he never heard back. Rather then respond, Obama quickly changed the subject.

That’s typical. Liberal Democrats don’t do advisory boards, or at least do them very well. When dealing with minorities, they think they know everything — and feel everything. Besides, from the perspective of the White House, people like Sotelo need not shape policy; their only responsibility is to gin up publicity for candidates and parties.

Finally, the host asked Obama, in essence, where he got the nerve to come around and ask Latinos for their votes again — when he hasn’t delivered on the last set of promises and doesn’t seem to care much about keeping Latino voters satisfied.

Obama disputed the “notion that somehow if I had worked it hard enough, we could have magically (achieved immigration reform),” insisting this is “just not the way our system works.”

Actually, there is no magic involved. Just leadership. With health care, the president knew he had to go out and rustle up votes. But with immigration, his stance has typically been that he’ll sign legislation once the votes are there. He needs to do more.

As for how our system works, frankly it might work better if the media followed the lead of people like Eddie Sotelo. Rather than simply fall in line behind Obama and the Democrats, Sotelo asked tough questions and tried to hold the president accountable for his performance in office. He actually seemed to think that promises are supposed to be kept, and that it’s the job of the media to keep politicians honest.

Sotelo did his job. Now Obama needs to do the same — and help fix an immigration system that everyone agrees is broken.