WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama called on Hispanic activists Monday to build a movement outside Washington to push for overhauling immigration, saying he can’t do it by himself and Republicans aren’t playing along.
He said he remains committed to his unfulfilled promise to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws to offer a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. But he offered no timelines as he spoke at the annual conference of a major Hispanic civil rights organization, the National Council of La Raza, and prospects for congressional action are bleak.
Obama acknowledged as much himself. “I need a dance partner here and the floor is empty,” he said in referring to congressional Republicans.
But Obama faced a roomful of activists eager for him to do more. Speaking about the high number of deportations that are troubling the Latino community, Obama said he had to enforce the laws that exist and couldn’t change them on his own.
The crowd disagreed and shouted, “Yes you can, Yes you can!”
In face of that reaction — and with an election year approaching and the Hispanic vote ever more important — Obama emphasized that inaction on immigration is not his fault.
“Feel free to keep the heat on me and keep the heat on Democrats, but here’s the only thing you should know — the Democrats and your president are with you, are with you. Don’t get confused about that. Remember who it is we need to move in order to actually change the laws,” he said.
Obama also said it was “heartbreaking” to see Congress get so close, only to block legislation to provide a route to legal status for college students and service members brought to the country as children.
That bill, called the DREAM Act, passed the House last year when it was controlled by Democrats but was blocked by Senate Republicans.