Hispanic media turning on Obama

By Marcia Facundo
BBC Mundo, Los Angeles

  • Published
Hispanic voters demonstrate in favour of immigration reform in May
Image caption,
Some Hispanic voters praise Mr Obama's efforts on healthcare but eagerly await action on immigration

Leading Spanish-language news outlets have become increasingly critical of President Barack Obama's failure to enact immigration reform.

With an immigration overhaul nowhere on the horizon, Hispanic journalists have been openly expressing their discontent with the president, accusing him of failing to take action on the promise that won him 67% of the Hispanic vote in 2008.

The long time romance between the US Spanish-language media and the Obama administration seems to be over.

"Latinos overwhelmingly voted for Obama because he promised immigration reform within a year, but now the White House has lost control of the debate", says Univision presenter Jorge Ramos, who is seen by many as the leading voice of a movement within the Spanish-language media that is turning its back on the president.

Some observers credit the growing Hispanic media criticism with the recent decline in Mr Obama's approval ratings among Hispanics.

Latino vote 'critical'

But Mr Ramos said the criticism of immigration policy reflected ordinary Latinos' disenchantment with the White House.

"He broke his promise," Mr Ramos told the BBC.

"It's that simple. That's what explains why Obama's support among the Hispanic community is declining."

As a presenter on Univision, the nation's largest Spanish-language television network, Mr Ramos has been reminding the president of the important role the Hispanic vote played in putting him in the White House and of the consequences of losing that support.

A recent study by America's Voice - a pro-immigration reform group - indicates the Hispanic vote could be crucial in 40 electoral contests in 12 states during the November mid-term elections.

But Mr Ramos says Hispanic voters are so disappointed they are unlikely to vote in November in the same numbers.

The feeling of unrest towards the president had already begun to coalesce when, in his State of the Union address, Mr Obama failed to list comprehensive immigration reform among his top priorities.

"Obama played down the reform," Univision.com wrote on 28 January, the day after the speech.

Shift in attitudes

By February, Mr Obama's approval rating among Hispanic voters had already dropped five points to 64% - according to Gallup, while his approval ratings among white and black voters remained relatively constant in the same period.

The Hispanic media's attitude shifted radically in April, shortly after Arizona passed a controversial anti-illegal immigration law.

The law required police to check the immigration status of people suspected of being in the US illegally, who had been stopped for another reason.

Opponents said it would encourage racial profiling of Hispanic people. A judge recently struck down the law's most controversial provisions, but it is thought the case may end up in the US Supreme Court.

When Senate Bill 1070 was signed by Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer in April, Hispanic media commentary on Mr Obama grew brutal, mainly because many believed the legislation was a consequence of the White House's failure to act on the issue.

By June, the president's approval rating had dropped by 12 points from the beginning of the year to 57%, while his approval among white and black voters held steady at 41% and 91%, respectively.

Words 'not enough'

"The two major drops in Hispanics' approval of Obama this year - in February and May - coincide with two periods when the president was under fire for not doing enough to promote comprehensive immigration reform in Congress," wrote Gallup polling analyst Lydia Saad in June.

And Mr Obama's much awaited major speech on immigration in July failed to put the criticism to rest.

"Words are not enough," wrote La Opinion, the nation's largest Spanish-language newspaper.

The White House Hispanic media office did not respond to a request for comment. But an administration official quoted by Politico.com pointed to the president's work with senators on a legislative framework for immigration reform, his pressure on Republicans on the issue, and his effort in his speech last month to restart the debate.

The official also rejected the notion that Mr Obama has lost the Spanish-language media.

"I don't know that we ever owned them," Politico quoted the official as saying. "They are a fiercely independent bunch."


Pilar Marrero, a political columnist of La Opinion, said the Hispanic media's stance on the White House reflected the larger community's opinion about the need for immigration reform.

Image caption,
Sixty-seven per cent of Hispanic voters backed the Mr Obama in 2008

"The media is also reminding the president of the promise he made on the campaign trail, which many of us, the journalists, reported in our coverage."

Some Hispanic voters praise the president's accomplishments on healthcare reform and economic stimulus, but others note that immigration reform is a distinctly personal issue.

"I think actions speak louder than words," said 28-year-old Mexican-American Kristie Olguin in Los Angeles.

"He put other issues ahead of an immigration reform while we still have family members struggling day by day because they don't have their documents."

Although at 17 she was too young to vote in November 2008, Maria Delgado, a student at Southgate High School in Los Angeles, remembers Mr Obama's promise.

"I don't think Obama has lost popularity, what he has lost is credibility," she says. "We all think he lied to us."