Pro-Immigrant Activists React To Obama Proposal
At a cleared-out restaurant in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday, dozens of immigrants and pro-immigrant advocates gathered to watch President Barack Obama's televised immigration speech from Las Vegas. Similar viewing parties were held throughout the Southwest.
The Phoenix crowd clapped when Obama mentioned a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. They cheered again when he said citizens shouldn't have to wait years to bring family members to the United States.
But afterward, Carlos Garcia of the grassroots group Puente Arizona said he's become jaded to the president's message on immigration.
"The words of Obama give us hope that the conversation has started," Garcia said. "But the same words that used to give us goosebumps no longer ring the same effect because families continue to be deported."
More than 400,000 immigrants were deported last year. And Garcia is trying to help a Phoenix man who could be sent back to Guatemala any day now, away from his American children.
"So what we are asking for today is the immediate halt to all the deportations in this country," Garcia said.
In San Diego, several dozen people gathered at the watch party hosted by the newly formed San Diego Table on Immigration Policy.
Many said they were please by the president’s stated commitment to reform, and his support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But some also expressed concern about the enforcement components of Obama’s proposal.
“I think being so close to the border we know how abusive immigration can be to our people," said Genoveva Aguilar, a San Diego union organizer.
Securing the nation’s border and enforcing immigration laws in the workplace are components of both Obama’s reform proposal and that of the so-called Gang of Eight U.S. senators.
Pedro Rios, chairman of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, said he’d like to see a bill that includes oversight of immigration enforcement officers and guaranteed respect for labor laws.
“There’s been a lot of enforcement already, a lot of families separated without much accountability resulting from that enforcement,” Rios said.
One area where the president's proposal differed from the Senate blueprint is that it does not make a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants contingent on achieving a secure border.
In a conference call with reporters, Marielena Hincapié of the Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center said that's a top priority for immigrant rights advocates.
"Enforcement will be part of any immigration reform," said Hincapie. "We know that. We are just insisting that the road to citizenship not be blocked by additional enforcement that makes that road to citizenship meaningless."
But putting security ahead of a path to citizenship is critical for many Republicans, and other members of that party are uncomfortable with any policy that resembles amnesty at all.
That will be one of the many points of controversy that will be debated in the months to come.
Both grassroots and national pro-immigrant groups say they’ll start organizing and campaigning to push their reform agenda.