After enraging many Hispanic voters last month by delaying a
change in immigration policies until after the November midterm
elections, Obama has faced widespread condemnation from a voting
bloc that helped him win the presidency in 2008 and 2012.
Latinos remain critical to Democrats' hopes of holding onto the
White House, not to mention Obama's legacy, so the president said he
would use the coming weeks to gin up support among the U.S. public
for another shot at reform.
Speaking at an annual gala held by Hispanic lawmakers, Obama said he
shared the group's frustration but needed its support to make any
reform last beyond his presidency, which concludes in a little more
than two years.
"I know there's deep frustration in many communities around the
country right now, and I understand that frustration because I share
it," he said at the Washington gala.
"But if anybody wants to know where my heart is or whether I want to
have this fight, let me put those questions to rest right now: I am
not going to give up this fight until it gets done."
Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked bipartisan
immigration legislation passed by the Senate in 2013, and the Latino
community has demanded Obama deliver on a promise to use his
executive authority to ease deportations of some of the more than 11
million undocumented people in the country.
Obama had promised to take that step before the end of the summer,
only to delay it because of fears it could hurt Democrats running
for election in conservative states in November.
The president reiterated on Thursday he would take action before the
end of the year, a pledge that irritated Republicans.
"The presidentís promise isnít about making the best policy or
enforcing the law -- itís an admission that his pledge to not uphold
the law in the future would be bad for his party now," said Senate
Republican leader Mitch McConnell in a statement.
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Obama's speech was interrupted by a heckler, who gave him a hard
time for failing to take executive action on deportations. But the
rest of the crowd largely embraced the president, representing
another twist in a relationship that at times resembles that of a
married couple repeatedly squabbling and making up.
Obama has missed the annual gala held by the Congressional Hispanic
Caucus the last two years.
Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, a leading
advocate for comprehensive immigration legislation, illustrated the
difficult ties Hispanic-Americans have had with Obama during the
past six years.
"It's clear that anybody that looks at this says, 'Wow, we weren't
the priority we should have been and we weren't the priority he
promised we'd be,'" Gutierrez said in an interview before the
speech, while expressing hope that Obama's Thursday remarks would be
a positive sign.
(Additional reporting by Marina Lopes and Roberta Rampton; Editing
by Eric Walsh)
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