On Monday President Obama took a break from debt ceiling talks to address immigration, education and the economy in a speech at the National Council of La Raza’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. And while the president insisted that he remains an ally of immigrant communities, his administration’s deportation numbers tell an entirely different story.
Obama committed himself once more to "the unfinished business" of immigration reform, and asked Americans who want change to keep pressing Republicans on the issue.
"We have a system that separates families, and punishes innocent young people for their parents’ actions by denying them the chance to earn an education or contribute to our economy or serve in our military," Obama said.
"So yes, feel free to keep the heat on me, and keep the heat on Democrats," Obama said. "Here’s the only thing you should know. The Democrats and your president are with you."
"Are with you," Obama repeated. "Don’t get confused about that. Remember who it is we need to move in order to actually change the laws."
When the DREAM Act failed a Senate filibuster threat in December, five Democrats voted against allowing the bill to move ahead to a vote. Three Republican senators backed the narrow legalization bill for undocumented immigrant youth.
Obama also said by design, American democracy didn’t allow him to exercise any power over deportation policies in the country, a claim that immigration advocates and legal experts dispute. Under President Obama, deportations have reached record highs.
On Friday, numbers from ICE confirmed, yet again, immigrant communities’ criticisms of the Obama administration deportation agenda. A little more than half of the 243,821 people who were deported from the country between October 2010 and May 23, 2011 had no criminal record whatsoever. And for those who had been convicted of some crime, those numbers were driven by a spike in deportations of people who had been convicted of drunk driving or some other traffic violations, the Christian Science Monitor reported. Under President Obama, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has rapidly expanded the program Secure Communities, which allows immigration officials to peer into the databases of anyone who’s booked in any local or county jail that has a standing agreement with the federal government allowing them access to that information.
Obama said that while he wanted to push ahead with immigration reform overhauls, he needed "a dance partner here." "And the floor is empty," Obama said, chastising Republicans who have turned away from any kind of non-enforcement immigration bill, even though plenty of Republicans have backed reform policies in years past.
Obama’s speech, widely seen as an address to the nation’s Latino voters and immigrant communities, was punctuated by a silent protest led by undocumented youth and shouts from the audience of "Yes, you can!" urging Obama to use his administrative authority to provide relief for the hundreds of thousands of immigrnat families who are being separated by deportation.
President Obama reviewed a year of his major immigration work, touching on his administration’s support for the DREAM Act, a recent speech in El Paso, Texas, and a series of White House events with Latino celebrities and community leaders.
All of this comes on the outset of an election season in which the president will once again depend heavily on Latino voters. An increasingly significant voting bloc, Latino voters turned out for President Obama two to one in the 2008 election.
Obama urged people who were disappointed with the direction of immigration policy to "keep building a movement for change outside of Washington, one they can’t stop. One that is greater than this community."