Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Obama Pledges to Make Immigration Top Priority in First Year of Office

The Latino vote is considered to be crucial in this year's presidential election. That's why both major candidates are actively courting Latinos.To that end, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Oba

Obama Pledges to Make Immigration Top Priority in First Year of Office

The Latino vote is considered to be crucial in this year's presidential election. That's why both major candidates are actively courting Latinos.To that end, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama came to San Diego yesterday. He spoke at the annual meeting of the nation's largest Latino civil rights group. KPBS Reporter Kenny Goldberg has the story.

Advertisement

A crowd of some 2,000 people at the National Council of La Raza meeting gave Barack Obama a warm reception. He immediately jumped into his theme that it's time for a change in America. For his first ex38le, he cited our immigration system. (Story continues below)

(Photo slideshow by Nathan Gibbs/KPBS)

The Democratic senator said 12 million undocumented immigrants live in hiding. He got his biggest applause when he described how communities are terrorized by immigration raids.

Advertisement

<b> Barack Obama: </b> When nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing, when people are detained without access to legal counsel. When all that's happening, the system just isn't working, and we need to change it.

Obama wasted no time in contrasting his position on immigration with that of his opponent.

Obama said he admired Senator John McCain when the Republican bucked his own party and supported comprehensive reform. But Obama said during the primary McCain abandoned the position.

<b> Obama: </b> I don't know about you, but I think it's time for a president who won't walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform just because it becomes politically unpopular.

Obama pledged he would make reforming immigration a top priority of his first year in office.The Democratic senator conceded the upcoming election is about more than that issue.

<b> Obama: </b> It's about the Latino families who are the first ones hurt by an economic downturn, and the last ones helped by an economic upturn. They can't afford another four years of the Bush economic policies that John McCain is offering- policies that give tax breaks to the biggest corporations and the wealthiest Americans, while doing little for struggling families who need help the most.

Obama also talked about the need for making healthcare affordable, and about fixing the  education system.

Finally, Obama told the audience that Latinos hold the election in their hands. And if they had any doubt about that, he reminded them about the last presidential contest.

Obama said in 2004, 40,000 registered Latino voters in New Mexico didn't turn out on Election Day. Senator Kerry lost that state by fewer than 6,000 votes.

Obama: I know how powerful this community is. And by the way, so does John McCain. Just think about how powerful you could be on November 4th, if you translate your numbers into votes.

Not everyone was pleased with Obama's speech.

Helen Picard comes from Austin, Texas.

<b> Helen Picard: </b> I wanted to hear more about his actual views, and less about, you know, how he doesn’t like what McCain has to say. So I just thought it was a little too political.

San Diego resident Enrique Gandarilla said Obama's speech was a home run.

<b> Enrique Gandarilla: </b> I thought it was great. I think he's talking to the American people, to everybody, not just Latinos, but the full spectrum of diversity that you find in this country, and he really gives a message of hope.

The latest national polls show Obama with a double-digit lead over John McCain among Latino voters.

Senator McCain brings his message to La Raza later today. 

Kenny Goldberg, KPBS News.