In an address in Washington to a major Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, President Barack Obama has underscored his determination to achieve comprehensive reform of the nation's immigration laws. The president also used the address to make some points about the current difficult deficit and debt negotiations with Congress.
The president's address to the National Council of La Raza came at a time when he is working to maintain or win back support from Latinos whose votes he will need to win re-election in 2012.m
Among the statistics forming a backdrop to the appearance: his approval rating among Hispanics suffered a four-point decline recently, from 59 percent to 55 percent, according to a recent Gallup survey.
At the same time, public-opinion polls show immigration reform remains a critical issue for Hispanics, including those attending the largest annual gathering of Latinos.
Introducing the president, the head of La Raza, Janet Murguia, praised his efforts to improve the lives of Hispanic-Americans, and bring Latinos into his administration, but she also noted "unfinished business" when it comes to immigration.
"Virtually everyone in this room has been affected by our nation's broken immigration system and the record number of deportations," said Murguia.
In his remarks Obama recalled a pledge he made as a presidential candidate in 2008 to make immigration reform a top priority in his first year in the White House. He acknowledged frustration the goal has not been achieved.
"I share your concerns, and I understand them, and I promise you we are responding to your concerns and working every day to make sure we are enforcing flawed laws in the most humane and best possible way," said Obama.
The president again blamed inaction on immigration reform, and related legislation called the Dream Act, which would provide a citizenship path for certain children of illegal immigrants, on congressional Republicans who he said have blocked progress.
"Twenty three Republican senators supported comprehensive immigration reform because they knew it was the right thing to do for the economy and it was the right thing to do for America," he said. "Today they have walked away. Republicans helped write the Dream Act, because they knew it was the right thing to do for America. Today, they have walked away."
Obama told La Raza that Hispanics have benefited from steps his administration has taken to improve the U.S. education system, including help for English language instruction and investing in community colleges.
The president also used the speech to reiterate broad themes of his struggle with Republicans in Congress to achieve what he calls a balanced agreement to cut deficit spending and raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit by August 2.
Noting that Hispanic families struggle with millions of other Americans in a tough economy, he reiterated his readiness in negotiations to make cuts "by historic amounts" in key government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Saying the United States "can not just close deficits by cutting spending" Obama also spoke about what he called the "heart of this debate."
"Are we a nation that asks only the middle class and the poor to bear the burden, after they have seen their jobs disappear and their incomes decline over a decade? Are we a people who break the promises we have made to seniors or the disabled, and leave them to fend for themselves?" he asked.
Saying Washington is a city "where compromise is becoming a dirty word," Obama urged Hispanics to remember that he and Democrats are with them when it comes to the need to change America's "broken immigration system."