By Elizabeth Hartfield
September 5, 2012
"It's not if, it's when," Rep. Xavier Becerra told ABC News Jake Tapper in response to a question about passing immigration overhaul. "It makes no difference if it's a Democrat in the White House or a Republican, we're going to get immigration reform."
Becerra of California was one of several Hispanic leaders who joined Tapper, National Journals Ron Brownstein and Univisions Maria Elena Salinas at today's panel event in Charlotte, N.C., titled Tomorrows America: The Hispanic Surge and the New Landscape in American Politics.
The other speakers at the event were Los Angeles Mayor and DNCC Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa, Frank Sharry, the founder of America's Voice, National Council of La Raza President Janet Murguia and San Antonio Mayor and DNC keynoter Julian Castro.
Villaraigosa agreed with Becerra's take on the issue, saying on immigration, "They [Republicans] will do it because they have to."
As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama promised to pass new immigration legislation: It's a promise that has so far not been kept, although the president announced in July an executive order to stop the deportations of many young, illegal immigrants who came to the country as children.
While Castro, Villaraigosa and Becerra were careful not to criticize Obama for not passing immigration legislation this term, Sharry did not mince words about the president's lack of follow-through in this area.
"Barack Obama mishandled this issue," Sharry said. "Let's be honest, let's give the dreamers the credit they deserve in forcing him into action. It wasn't a good idea that came from the White House. It was an inevitable idea that came from the grassroots."
Sharry said that, ultimately, Obama's failure to push through a comprehensive immigration bill would not cause him to lose the Hispanic vote, because Romney's policies in comparison are more troubling to many Latino voters.
"The Latino voter who cares about immigration has a choice now between someone who didn't keep his promises, but who put some skin in the game at a tough moment, and a candidate who wants to veto the Dream Act," he said. "The contrast couldn't be clearer. People are disappointed in Obama, but terrified of Romney."
Latino voters are a fast-growing demographic - a young Hispanic turns 18 every 30 seconds and both Republicans and Democrats are trying hard to court them. Obama enjoys a strong lead in the polls with Hispanic, which Castro highlighted. "The issue is the policies, that's why Obama is leading 75 percent to 25 percent in polls among Hispanics," Castro said.
But Republicans do hold one advantage that was highlighted on the panel: There are more Republicans elected to high-level, statewide offices than there are Democrats. Although Becerra and Villaraigosa both pointed out that there are more Hispanic Democrats who serve in elected office in general, they acknowledged the strong Hispanic leaders on the other side of the aisle, and addressed the need for Democrats to catch up in that area.
"Republicans have a long way to go, but good for them, they have high-ranking Latinos in their ranks and shame on Democrats if they don't see that we have to do the same thing," Becerra said.
Villaraigosa said, "I've said this before, [Sen.] Marco Rubio and [Gov.] Susana Martinez were the best speakers at that [RNC] convention, bar none, but the soaring rhetoric doesn't match the policies and it doesn't match the platform."
Although the topic of the panel focused heavily on Latino issues, Castro and Villaraigosa took questions related to trending topics of the day. Villaraigosa addressed the DNCC's decision to change the location of Obama's Thursday night address from the Bank of America Stadium to the Time Warner Center.
"We were saying until last night, all of us, the show will go on. The fear is it's not just the rain, if there's lightening, people could get hurt," Villaraigosa said. "There was no issue about filling up the stadium, we have knocked on doors, reached out all across the state, all across the South and the country, that wasn't going to be a problem."
And Castro answered the question on everyone's mind after Tuesday nights keynote: Does he plan to run for president one day?
"That's not going to happen," Castro said firmly. "I have never woken up on any day of my life and said, 'I want to be president of the United States.'"
Of course, his firm denial won't put that speculation to rest.