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WASHINGTON, Jul 26 2011 (IPS) - “Our American family will only be as strong as our Latino community,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in his address at the National Council of La Raza’s annual conference in Washington on Monday.
“We’re going to keep working with you because for more than four decades, NCLR has fought for opportunities for Latinos from city centres to farm fields and that fight – to get a decent education, to find a good job, to make of our lives what we will – has never been more important than it is today,” he said.
Obama thanked the NCLR – the country’s largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organisation – for allowing him to “poach” its alumni, naming Cabinet Secretary Hilda Solis and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as just two of the hundreds of Latinas and Latinos currently serving in his administration.
The president also blasted the Republican Party for backpedaling on its policies of five years ago, reminding the gathering that 23 Republican senators supported comprehensive immigration reform in 2006 because it was the “right thing to do”.
“Today, they’ve walked away,” he said.
The Immigration Policy Center held a briefing Monday on the Republicans’ latest opposition to immigration reforms.
If passed, the ‘Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation’ (HALT) Act – which the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement debated Tuesday – would suspend all discretionary forms of immigrant relief until Jan. 21, 2013, a day after the next presidential inauguration.
“The HALT Act seeks to… chastise the administration for a series of policy memos that contemplate using executive branch authority to improve current laws,” Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, said Monday.
Beth Werlin, deputy director of the Legal Action Center, added, “By taking away the power to grant deferred action, the HALT Act is basically interfering with the administration’s ability to prioritise its removal cases and focus its resources on serious criminals and those who pose a true security risk.”
The act would also suspend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) – the meager protection granted to Haitians fleeing the ongoing humanitarian crisis wrought by last year’s devastating earthquake – effectively killing the administration’s capacity to respond to humanitarian catastrophes.
HALT would also eliminate exemptions that exist to ease the suffering of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents whose relatives have been deported.
Obama himself appealed to NCLR’s audience on Monday, insisting, “You can feel free to keep the heat on me and the Democrats. But remember who it is that we need to move in order to actually change the laws.”
“I need you to keep building a movement for change outside of Washington, one that they can’t stop. One that’s greater than this community,” he added.
Scepticism from the immigrant community
Obama’s insistence that the administration is “keeping its promises” was met by some with disappointment, scepticism and, in some cases, outright anger from the immigrant community.
NCLR’s chief executive officer Janet Murguia confessed that the president’s speech offered nothing new.
“I think he used it as a platform to remind us that he believes those issues are important,” Murguia said Monday, but “our community was eager to hear more specifics.”
Meanwhile, births have surpassed immigration as the main catalyst of the boom in the U.S. Hispanic population, a new analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center found earlier this month.
In fact, the last decade witnessed an expansion of the Mexican- American community – the largest of the Hispanic groups in the country – by 11 million people, of which 7.2 million were born in the United States, a change from previous decades, which consistently saw more immigrants than newborns.
Referencing the Hispanic community as the fastest-growing segment of the U.S., Murguia stressed that the question of immigration would have a significant impact on the outcome of the 2012 election.
But trends in the administration’s immigration policy make the likelihood of electoral support next year rather slim.
“The Obama administration has deported a record number of immigrants, some 400,000 in 2010 alone, tearing apart thousands of families and creating a climate of fear in communities across the country,” Jacqueline Esposito, director of immigration advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), told IPS.
“The [current] administration’s signature enforcement programme, the controversial ‘Secure Communities’, has been rejected by the governors of Illinois, New York and Massachusetts because of the damage it has done to community safety and its violations of civil and human rights,” she said.
“Despite his claims in today’s speech, [the president] can take executive action to ensure that those eligible for the DREAM Act are not placed into deportation proceedings and he can direct the Department of Homeland Security to halt the deportation of all students eligible for the DREAM Act and other immigrants facing deportation whose removal from the country is not in the public interest,” Esposito told IPS.
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