Latino voters were a key to President Obama’s victory in November, turning out in big numbers and supporting Mr. Obama by more than 2 to 1 over Republican Mitt Romney. Now, many of those voters say it’s time for Mr. Obama to do something he did not do in his first term: push hard for and sign a comprehensive immigration overhaul. Let’s start with a group of Latinos — young and old, some U.S. citizens, some not — heading from Florida to Washington, D.C., for The President’s inauguration and for meetings with members of Congress. As caravans go, it’s a small one: 13 people in two vans. The group is pushing the president to follow through on promises to fix a broken immigration system. They also want him to suspend deportations, which have reached record levels in Mr. Obama’s first term.
“Politicians sit there and they preach and talk … about family values, and how [for] a society to succeed, it needs great family values,” says Daniel Barajas, 30, during a stop in Charlotte, N.C. “But they just sit there on the side, twiddling their thumbs, while families are being ripped apart daily [by deportations].”
Barajas says he sees the president as the lesser of two evils. He says Republicans are far worse with their call for a high-tech border fence and talk of “self-deportation” — a phrase used by GOP nominee Romney.
Another member of the caravan takes a more positive tone. Carlos Lopez, 20, has never been to Washington and has never seen the president, let alone an inauguration.
“One of the reasons that I’m pretty excited about it is because I’ve never been to one. So it’s going to be really interesting. There’s going to be a lot of people,” he says. “And I’ve never seen snow because I’ve been stuck in Florida this whole time, so I’m pretty excited about that as well.”
Unfortunately for Lopez, snow isn’t a sure bet for Monday’s inauguration. Still, he says he’s happy to take part in the celebration of a new term for Obama. There is, however, a “but.”
“I think the ‘but’ is Obama promised immigration reform four years ago and didn’t do anything,” he says. “And now he’s said it again. He’s promised it, you know. And that’s [why] I came here — to push him and make sure he knows that we’re there. And we’re going to be pushing till it comes through, you know?”
For Latinos, their lopsided vote in support of the president in the election, their strong turnout and their overall population growth make them a rising political force.
Some key Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and others, now also see risk in taking a hard line and alienating these voters.
In Washington on Thursday, another group advocating for an immigration overhaul, the Campaign for Citizenship, held an event featuring the so-called dreamers — young people who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children and remain undocumented.
The DREAM Act, which failed to pass in Congress, would have provided a path to citizenship for them.
Alejandra Gomez, who lives in New Mexico, told an emotional story about her two brothers’ deportation last year.
“My prayers for 2013 is that President Obama and the Congress will act to finally fix our immigration system and create a path to citizenship for families like mine, so that families like mine can reunite,” she said.
Gomez said she does support the president, and she urged others to do so during the election. But she also says now is the time for this issue to be settled.
The president again begins a term of office calling immigration a priority. Many Latinos hope that’s for real this time.