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Esther J. Cepeda: How sincere is Hillary’s Latino outreach?

In this Nov. 21, 2014 photo, Lorella Praeli, left, and her mother Chela Praeli, embrace as President Barack Obama speaks about immigration, at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas. The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign announced May 20 that Lorella Praeli has been named their Latino Outreach director.
In this Nov. 21, 2014 photo, Lorella Praeli, left, and her mother Chela Praeli, embrace as President Barack Obama speaks about immigration, at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas. The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign announced May 20 that Lorella Praeli has been named their Latino Outreach director. AP File

When Hillary Clinton announced Lorella Praeli as her campaign’s head of Latino outreach, the announcement yielded a mixed bag of coverage — “Hillary Clinton Taps Dreamer,” “Clinton campaign hires former Dreamer” and “Hillary Hires Ex-Illegal as Latino Outreach Director.”

It’s impossible to know the message Clinton was trying to send by hiring Praeli, formerly head of the advocacy group United We Dream who actually now has legal permanent resident status. Perhaps she simply wanted someone on staff who is familiar with the struggles of illegal immigrants.

What is known is that careful observers of Democrats’ fumbles and false promises on immigration were not impressed.

Writing on the Latino Rebels website, Angel Rodriguez, the publisher of current affairs blog NYCTalking.com, wrote: “Clinton is just another Democrat who is dangling that Immigration Carrot for Latinos again. She’s now recruited a Dreamer. How predictable. Though Clinton may have forgotten her past (or her husband’s past – NAFTA, anyone?), we (and the Internet) have not.”

Rodriguez then listed a compilation of Hillary saying she’s “adamantly against illegal immigrants,” stating that the women and children flooding the border during last summer’s crisis should be sent back home, and other remarks made before she announced her candidacy.

New York Daily News columnist Albor Ruiz described Clinton’s headline-grabbing selection more frankly: “Some fear that, despite Praeli’s undisputed credentials as an effective and uncompromising leader, her appointment could be an attempt by Clinton’s campaign to use the Dreamer movement as a political token — and Praeli as just a spokesperson for the campaign.”

These concerns are not just the musings of a few Hispanic commentators.

The Dream Action Coalition, an immigration advocacy organization, released a statement to the Daily Kos, “As Dreamers and families who continue to be undocumented, we have dedicated ourselves to our communities, not a party, and we will continue to hold accountable all the presidential candidates.”

Though it’s true that Hispanics who identify themselves as Democrats are gushing about Clinton’s new hire, independent, conservative and even undocumented Hispanics are calling the move nothing more than window dressing.

Manuel Guerra Casas, a politically active immigrant without legal status, has been following the immigration battle from the front lines since 2003, a few years after his arrival in the United States from Mexico in 2000. The Florida lawn maintenance worker had a visceral reaction to the news, posting vociferously on Facebook that Clinton’s move was designed to manipulate the immigrant community into believing she is on their side.

Echoing the same disillusioned sentiment I’ve heard for years from advocacy organizations, immigrant activists and others across the political spectrum, Casas told me that the Democrats consistently co-opt immigrant organizations and causes just in time for elections and then run the other way when it comes to making long-standing changes to the broken system.

“I talk to my co-workers all the time and other people I know are undocumented, and they’re convinced this is all a political issue, that the Democrats are playing with our minds,” Casas told me. “They don’t care about temporary fixes, they’re looking for permanent solutions.”

They should be careful what they wish for. After all, before Clinton flip-flopped, she advocated a border fence and was opposed to people employing illegal immigrants.

Esther Cepeda is a Washington Post Writers Group columnist. Email: estherjcepeda@washpost.com. Twitter: @estherjcepeda.

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