In hopes of galvanizing a frustrated and increasingly disillusioned Latino community less than five weeks ahead of the midterm elections, President Obama put a spin on a familiar refrain.
“Sí se puede, si votamos — yes we can, if we vote,” Obama told the crowd Thursday night at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual gala, using his campaign slogan in Spanish and English.
But that if – whether Latino voters will turn out in strong numbers on Nov. 4 – is growing into a pressing issue for groups hoping to mobilize and register voters in a community that feels betrayed by the president for falling back on promises to shield potentially millions of undocumented immigrants from threats of deportation.
Obama delayed executive action on immigration in the first place out of fear that a broad approach would jeopardize races for Democrats facing tight elections in November. But with the delay comes the threat that putting action on hold could do just the opposite.
Though optimistic, voting groups fear the disenchantment among Latinos will hamper registration efforts in an already difficult midterm election season. Ben Monterroso, president of Mi Familia Vota, said organizers on the ground faced an uphill battle in gathering moment soon after the president’s delay.
“It was a little harder in the beginning … especially in the last couple of weeks when more people were disillusioned,” Monterroso said. “But after you get the anger out and your heart back in order, you can’t stop building. We have the responsibility to make the elected officials listen to us.”
Latinos are not expected to have a significant impact on most heavily contested U.S. Senate races. But intense voter registration drives are already underway in states like Colorado and Florida, where large Latino populations could have a big impact on the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, respectively.
Instead, groups are looking ahead to 2016, when growing Latino populations across the country will be critical in determining who occupies the Oval Office next.
“At lot is being said about whether or not the community is going to participate, but that doubt has always been there,” Monterroso said. “Our victory would be more voters than we had in 2010.”
Only one-third of Latinos eligible to vote turned out for the 2010 midterm elections. Compare that to the 2012 presidential election cycle when 48% of Latino voters showed up at the polls, with more than 71% of those going for Obama’s second-term win.
“It’s always difficult to get Latinos excited about electoral politics and now is going to be difficult because people are very demoralized,” said Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).
Voting groups that counted on executive action to help galvanize voters and bring them to the polls instead face voters who are increasingly less enthusiastic about supporting Democrats. Activists made that point in recent weeks by protesting Democrats outside the party’s Washington, D.C. headquarters to show Latino support should not be taken for granted.
Activists and families marched outside the Hispanic Caucus gala Thursday in Washington, D.C., demanding the president take immediate immigration action on his own. Inside the hall, a woman managed to interrupt the president twice during the event.
“We need relief now,” she yelled before eventually being escorted away by security.
“I’ll get to it,” Obama responded. “I’ll get to that.”
The president pledged once again to take executive action, this time between the November midterm elections and the new year. He did not, however, discuss the scope of his action, which advocates say could lift millions of undocumented immigrants into protection from fears of deportation.
“The truth is Obama really won’t be able to undo the broken promises until he fixes them,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigrant rights advocacy group America’s Voice, which has been critical of the president’s delay. “At this point, there is a feeling of disappointment and betrayal that only executive action will address.”