Nacho Man

When May rolls around, the people who work in the Bush White House Scheduling Office know it's time to show Hispanics that the president cares about this growing community. And for the last three years, the Bush White House has invited Latino leaders from across the country (or at least those who support this administration) to celebrate Cinco de Mayo on the White House lawn.

For those who wonder if there's something more to this day than the tequila and beer industries' marketing efforts, Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday celebrating the victory of a Mexican army over a much larger French army in 1862. In the United States, however, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in this country -- especially in the Southwest -- as an occasion for cultural affirmation and ethnic pride.

So why does President Bush use the majesty of the White House for a party celebrating a relatively obscure Mexican holiday? It should come as no surprise that a celebration of Mexican heritage is all about politics, elections, and campaigning. While running for president in 2000 and continuing since he took office, Bush and his staff have assiduously courted Latinos. Indeed, it was in connection with the first Cinco de Mayo celebration, in 2001, that the phrase “mariachi politics” was coined to refer to Bush's superficial efforts to woo Hispanics.

Three years later, all that Bush has to show Hispanics are photo ops and superficial events, so he'd better keep that Cinco de Mayo event on the calendar.

Let's take the issue of immigration. On the campaign trail in 2000, candidate Bush stayed cleverly and carefully away from the immigration debate. While saying nice things about immigrants, he refused to articulate a position on the tough policy issues.

He stayed silent in 2000 even though Congress was considering several important legislative efforts to restore fairness and justice to a system that many, from both parties, had concluded had gone too far. The one thing that candidate Bush promised in 2000 was that if he became president, those who were waiting to become U.S. citizens would not have to wait longer than six months from their application date to their swearing-in day.

Where are we now? The delays facing lawful U.S. residents seeking to become full Americans by taking the oath of citizenship are now greater than before. In New York, for example, an additional year has been tacked on to an already long wait of two years. Why? Bush and the Department of Homeland Security would say that resources and manpower were needed for the war against terrorism. They would point to the 2002-03 effort to register Arab and Muslim men between the ages of 18 and 45 from 25 countries. Almost 80,000 individuals were registered, not a single one connected to a terrorist cell or other suspicious terrorist-related activity.

The Department of Homeland Security voluntarily discontinued this program in late 2003 when it finally realized that it was not a good use of limited resources. The consequences, however, were that lawful U.S. residents have been denied timely consideration of their citizenship applications because personnel have been otherwise engaged.

But hold on, you might say. What about the sweeping principles on immigration reform that Bush announced in January 2004. Guess what? He hasn't done anything about that, either. The White House has not proposed any legislation or taken any steps to suggest that his speech was anything other than politically motivated. Bush and Karl Rove apparently think that Latinos will be satisfied to hear the president's lofty rhetoric in the ads sure to run this summer and fall.

Meanwhile, the Democrats will be introducing legislation in early May that represents real comprehensive immigration reform. Finally, break-the-mold legislation, combining the best of American values by calling for a process to legalize the millions of hard-working, tax-paying, undocumented immigrants and, for the first time ever, a foreign-worker program that protects American workers and immigrant workers while responding to real labor needs.

So what will President Bush say to those families and individuals who waited patiently in line, relying on his campaign promise of 2000? I suppose he could say, “I'm sorry you won't be able to vote for me this time around, but have another nacho.” And to those who toil in the fields and workplaces of America, waiting for a chance to come out of the shadows, perhaps he'll say, “Lo siento, not today, but mañana.”

Maria Echaveste, an American Prospect board member, is the former deputy chief of staff for President Bill Clinton. She is also the co-founder of a Washington consulting group, Nueva Vista, and represents, among others, the United Farm Workers.