Obama: I didn’t break my promise on immigration reform
President Obama participates in a radio interview conducted via telephone with Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo, Univision Radio, in the Oval Office, Feb. 21, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama fought back against the growing belief among Latinos that he broke his campaign promise on immigration reform and said he would get it done in a second term, during an interview with Univision Radio that aired Wednesday.
The president, looking to renew enthusiasm for his campaign among Latino voters, appeared on the Los Angeles-based “Piolin Por La Mañana” Show on Univision Radio hosted by Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo, arguably the most influential Spanish-language radio personality in the country.
He reassured Latinos that he is committed to passing a comprehensive immigration reform plan, blaming the lack of progress on what he describes as an intransigent Congress and a Republican Party that has adopted extreme views on the issue.
“Piolin, I would only have broken my promise if I hadn’t tried. But ultimately, I’m one man,” he said when asked if he broke his promise. “You know, we live in a democracy. We don’t live in a monarchy. I’m not the king. I’m the president. And so, I can only implement those laws that are passed through Congress.”
In a bold statement, Obama expressed confidence he would win reelection and attempt to pass immigration reform again in a second term.
“My presidency is not over, I’ve got another five years coming up. We’re going to get this done,” he said.
Even though Latinos don’t rate immigration as their top issue in polls, it’s still a significant personal and political issue for the vast majority of Latino voters nationwide and the stagnation of reform efforts has led some political analysts to believe that Obama in November could suffer a drop off in support from Latino voters, a key component of his winning 2008 coalition. That’s something he can ill afford if he expects to win a second term in office.
A January Univision News/ABC News/Latino Decisions survey shows the president running strong against his potential Republican opponents, but 53 percent of Latino voters nationwide say they are less enthusiastic about Obama than they were four years ago.
While the high jobless rate among Latinos certainly contributes significantly to that sentiment, many in the community have keyed in on Obama’s 2008 campaign promise that he would take up immigration reform during his first year in office as a sign that he might not be fully committed to passing a comprehensive reform plan, and thus might not be worth showing up to vote for in November.
“It is interesting that Obama is so certain he will be re-elected, when his approval rating with Latinos has dropped by 30 percent since April 2009,” said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Alexandra Franceschi. “The president hasn’t made any friends in the Latino community after failing to live up to his promise to address immigration in his first year. Latinos across the country are tired of his broken promises and empty rhetoric, and in November they will elect a candidate that can keep his word.”
The president rejected that notion, saying that community leaders should play a role in promoting his commitment to immigration reform.
“The truth of the matter is that perceptions in the Latino community are going to be shaped by community leaders like you,” said Obama. “And you and I have talked about this extensively; you know the fact that I’m fully committed to this issue. I speak about it in the State of the Union address; I speak about it every opportunity I get. And so, the question is, when am I going to get some help from Republicans to actually get it done?”
The president’s remarks also come on the same day of a Republicans presidential debate in Arizona, which is a hotbed of controversy over the immigration issue due to concerns over border security and the SB 1070 immigration crackdown law. The GOP candidates are expected to hammer away at him on the immigration issue from the right, something which Obama says is exactly the problem in getting immigration reform passed.
In one of his toughest condemnations yet, the president said that supporters of SB 1070 and similar crackdown laws, which include almost all of his Republican opponents, are taking an “anti-immigrant stand.”
“I think that there is a politics that we have been seeing that is so focused on a negative attitude towards immigration. We see it at the state level in Arizona, in Alabama and other of these states where people have been scoring political points, taking the harshest anti-immigrant stand,” he said.
“That’s not the kind of politics that I believe in and I know that’s not the kind of politics the Latino community is going to respond to,” he added.
Obama said it’s important for Latinos to show up and vote in November in order to drive out those types of politicians from office.
“[It’s] going to depend on the community making sure that it is focused on those who are preventing comprehensive immigration reform from occurring,” he said. “And since I am 100 percent behind comprehensive immigration reform, obviously I am not the roadblock to making this happen.”
Listen to the interview here:
And a full transcript of the interview can be found below:
Piolin: Thank you Mr. President for receiving my phone call.
Obama: Piolin, it’s good to talk to you my friend.
Piolin: We’re going to start right away because this is what our community wants to know. During your presidency, you have not delivered the immigration reform that we were hoping for. Thousands of families have been separated by deportation, leaving their children behind, alone in this country. Do you think that you still have the support of the Latino community?
Obama: Well, first of all Piolin, my presidency is not over, I’ve got another five years coming up. We’re going to get this done. And — and absolutely we have strong support in the Latino community because they have seen something we are working on. First of all, strengthening the economy, we were able to get the payroll tax done that provides 25 million Latinos with an extra 40 dollars in every paycheck and is going to strengthen the economy. We made sure unemployment insurance got extended because the Latino community has been so hard hit. A million Latinos are going to be benefiting from that. The housing settlement that we just passed, which will help Latino families all across the country who were taken advantage of by subprime lenders to be able to stay in their homes. The work we have done on education, to make sure millions of students — many Latino students are still getting Pell Grants and other scholarships and financial aid so that they can go to college. So, there are a lot of issues that we have worked on that have directly benefited millions of Latino families.
You’re right though, immigration reform is something we still have to get done and as I’ve told you since before I was elected president, the only way we are going to get this done fully is by getting Congress to do its job.
What we’ve been able to do is, administratively, we’ve said, let’s reemphasize our focus when it comes to enforcement on criminals and at the borders and let’s not be focusing our attention on hard-working families who are just trying to make ends meet. We’ve administratively proposed to reform the “three and 10” program so that families aren’t separated when they’re applying to stay here in this country.
So we are trying to do a lot to soften the effects of immigration, but ultimately, the only way we are going to do this is to get something passed through Congress, and that’s why we have to keep the pressure up.
Unfortunately, the Republican side, which used to at least give lip service to immigration reform, now they’ve gone completely to a different place and have shown themselves unwilling to talk at all about any sensible solutions to this issue and we are just going to have to keep up the pressure until they act.
Piolin: So, does that mean that we need to wait another five years before we see immigration reform?
Obama: We’re going to need help from Congress. And so, this election coming up, it’s important for the community not only to ask who is supportive of immigration reform when it comes to the presidency — because that will be an easy question to answer. So far, we haven’t seen any of the Republican candidates even support immigration reform. In fact, their leading candidate said he would veto even the DREAM Act, much less comprehensive immigration reform.
So the choice at the presidential level will not be that difficult. But when it comes to Congress, all your listeners need to look and see: are those members of Congress — are they committing to getting this done? Because, ultimately, unless Congress acts, we’re going to continue to be able to try to make some administrative changes to the immigration laws but, ultimately, in the end, we won’t solve the problem for so many families who are still struggling because they are living in the shadows.
Piolin: There is a perception out there that you broke your promise to achieve immigration reform; do you think you broke your promise?
Obama: Piolin, I would only have broken my promise if I hadn’t tried. But ultimately, I’m one man. You know, we live in a democracy. We don’t live in a monarchy. I’m not the king. I’m the president. And so, I can only implement those laws that are passed through Congress.
And the truth of the matter is that perceptions in the Latino community are going to be shaped by community leaders like you. And you and I have talked about this extensively, you know the fact that I’m fully committed to this issue. I speak about it in the State of the Union address; I speak about it every opportunity I get. And so, the question is, when am I going to get some help from Republicans to actually get it done?
And that’s going to depend on the community making sure that it is focused on those who are preventing comprehensive immigration reform from occurring. And since I am 100 percent behind comprehensive immigration reform. Obviously I am not the roadblock to making this happen.
Piolin: And Mr. President, why is it that politicians always seek out Latinos come election time?
Obama: I don’t know about other politicians. I know that I speak out to you even when I’m not running for reelection, which is why we have had so many conversations on this issue.
But the fact of the matter is that, I think a lot of members of Congress, even during election time, aren’t paying attention to the Latino community and unfortunately that, I think that there is a politics that we have been seeing that is so focused on a negative attitude towards immigration. We see it at the state level in Arizona, in Alabama, and other of these states where people have been scoring political points, taking the harshest anti-immigrant stand. That’s not the kind of politics that I believe in and I know that’s not the kind of politics the Latino community is going to respond to.