U.S. President Barack Obama came into office with strong voter support among Hispanic Americans, while promising to make immigration reform a top priority. But many lawmakers in Washington oppose easing restrictions on immigration and instead demand a crackdown against illegal immigration.
Hundreds of pro-immigration activists gathered recently near the White House to send President Obama a message:
“We are here to collect on the promises he made to us," said a female activist.
That promise was sweeping pro-immigration reform. The rally was equal parts political theater, voter outrage and dance party.
"Hey, hey, Obama, don’t deport my mama!," chanted the protesters.
Such appeals against deporting mamas are not helping this mother. She says when she called police during a domestic violence dispute, she was arrested. She now faces deportation.
“I am fighting not to be separated from my daughter and for justice for the millions of immigrants in this country," she said.
Police detained Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and other activists during the protest. Gutierrez supports immigration reforms, including an end to deporting undocumented, immigrant college students. These protestors say more than 1 million immigrants have been deported since Mr. Obama's election.
Speaking to Hispanic activists recently, the president blamed Republicans for failing to enact immigration reforms.
“Let’s be honest, I need a dance partner here and the floor is empty," said President Obama.
Political analysts say Mr. Obama needs Hispanic voters to win re-election in 2012. But a recent Gallup Poll shows his approval rating among Hispanics has slipped.
At the rally, the anger was palpable.
“The United States is deporting veterans and that is not American," said Vietnam war veteran Manuel Valenzuela.
Business leaders testifying on Capitol Hill also seek immigration reform. But their interests are more narrow. They seek quick visa approval for high tech foreign employees. They say the United States is losing top workers because the immigration process is so cumbersome.
Microsoft attorney Brad Smith says other countries have friendlier immigration policies toward top talent.
“The world economy has changed," said Smith. "It used to be that people would move in search of the right jobs. Now jobs move in search of the right people.”
NASDAQ CEO Robert Greifeld says high-skilled immigrants in the U.S. create jobs.
“Among the Fortune 500 companies, we found at least 14 NASDAQ companies with foreign-born founders," said Greifeld. "These companies have created over $522 billion in market capitalization and employ over 500,000 workers.”
With a sluggish economy, and a still unresolved debate over raising the debt ceiling, there’s much uncertainty in Washington. But one thing is sure: those waiting for comprehensive immigration reform are going to wait a little bit longer.