Hours after President Obama publicly discussed his executive actions on immigration in front of a crowd at a Las Vegas high school late last year, he headed to a more private gathering in a hotel suite.
There, the president met with Latino celebrities, Democrats, and Univision personalities with a clear request for them: promote the new government program that would delay the deportations of undocumented immigrants.
The meeting — which resembles the White House’s strategy for promoting the Obamacare exchanges through celebrities — included actor Wilmer Valderrama, Diane Guerrero from Orange Is the New Black, Mexican singer Pepe Aguilar, and RaÃºl De Molina and Lili Estefan, known for their hit Univision entertainment show El Gordo y la Flaca, as well as Univision Radio’s Enrique Santos and DNC finance chair Henry MuÃ±oz. In particular, Obama highlighted Guerrero’s story — which had made the rounds in press reports ahead of his announcement — of how she and her family were undocumented. Valderrama also told Obama about scams that exist to take advantage of undocumented by “notarios,” people who help immigrants file paperwork with the government, which the president said he didn’t want to happen.
Now, despite an injunction by a federal judge that suspends implementation of the immigration actions during legal proceedings, Obama is using the same playbook.
Since the court injunction, Valderrama and Guerrero have done a Voto Latino Google Hangout together, and talked about what the ruling means for the community. Latin rock star Juanes also tweeted about ending deportations, which Democrats like Sen. Bob Menendez and Rep. Tony Cardenas retweeted.
One person familiar with outreach to multiple prominent Latin music artists said they have been approached by the administration about spreading the word about programs their fans may qualify for.
These less informal efforts are part of a broader Spanish-language effort by the White House that’s continuing even as the program has been suspended. On Wednesday, Obama will sit down with Jose Diaz-Balart, who anchors two shows on Telemundo as well as MSNBC’s The Rundown with JosÃ© DÃaz-Balart. The one-hour town hall, as it is being billed, will be taped at Florida International University in Miami, and is an opportunity for Obama to message to Latinos in English and Spanish.
Two days after the injunction, Univision announced “Immigration Week,” which the network just completed. In major markets, including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Houston, the network ran programming centered on educating Hispanics on the executive action process and explaining what the court ruling means, and featured Cecilia MuÃ±oz, the architect of Obama’s immigration policy on Al Punto — think Meet the Press in Spanish. The network also launched an interactive online tool after the injunction titled “Everything you need to know about the suspension of executive action” in Spanish.
The tone of this Spanish-language effort is twofold: a massive effort to convince potential applicants that the program is safe and will ultimately happen, despite the court ruling — and a more partisan attack.
Democrats see this as an opportunity to draw a distinction between themselves and Republicans in the minds of Latino voters. One source with knowledge of a congressional Democrat’s plans said additional efforts are underway to use Spanish-language media to tell the story of Republican opposition to the executive actions.
Behind the scenes, however, there are now concerns among immigration activists about the partisanship, which they say could have the unintended consequence of scaring undocumented immigrants.
Erika Andiola, an activist based in Arizona, was at a Feb. 12 meeting with activists across the immigration movement including Frank Sharry of America’s Voice, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), United We Dream, and others, where they strategized on what to do if the court decision came down.
She said a lot of the parents she works with are scared about what will happen to the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, including her own mother, because of a frantic email she received from a local organization. She said her mother was worried that the legal challenge meant the program was going to be eliminated.
Andiola said the organizations who work very closely with the Democratic Party see it as a huge opportunity to attack Republicans for their opposition.
“Which is true, but for many of us it’s, âOK, but how are you guys going to do that without scaring people on the ground?'” she said. “They’re thinking, âThis is going to be over, if it comes out should we even apply?'”
Univision News executive Daniel Coronell said the network is keeping this dynamic in mind in its coverage, striving for balance, and pointed to Sunday’s Al Punto, where along with Cecilia MuÃ±oz, Adryana Boyne, a Republican strategist, and legal experts were featured.
Calling Obama’s latest move a defensive PR campaign, RNC spokesperson Ruth Guerra said Obama “is now doing the only thing he knows how to do: hit the campaign trail. This shows his immigration action was all about politics and never about sound policy.”
Meanwhile, at the same time as Obama’s immigration town hall in Miami on Wednesday, Latino donors and actress Eva Longoria are expected to descend on Miami Beach for a fundraiser for the Latino Victory Project. A source close to the LVP said Emilio and Gloria Estefan may attend but will likely be involved later in the night as some in attendance for Obama’s speech join with some of the fundraisers and MuÃ±oz as well. The group grew from the Futuro Fund, a 2012 effort led by Longoria, MuÃ±oz, and Puerto Rican lawyer AndrÃ©s W. LÃ³pez, which raised $32 million for Obama’s re-election.
Not expected to attend are the trio of Univision personalities Obama met with back in November, like RaÃºl De Molina, who the next day lauded Obama’s executive actions on Univision.
“I think the whole world has waited for this for many years,” he said in a video he tweeted.
“This touches my heart because I know a lot of people from Central America who have children who were born in this country, they’ve been here for years, and they are still worried that any day they won’t come home because they could be deported.”