In the crossfire with sectors of the Latino community over immigration, President Barack Obama nevertheless plans to attend the annual gala of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute next month, the White House told NBC Latino.
Obama’s address at the institute’s gala next week will come just a month and two days before the Nov. 4 elections, when, among other things, the majority party of the Senate will be determined.
“His attendance reflects his ongoing commitment to the Latino community and the future of Latino and Latina leaders that CHCI works so hard to develop each year,” CHC chairman Rep. Rubén Hinojosa said in a statement.
The president has had to do some reassuring on that commitment. He’s been heavily criticized by Latino and immigration advocacy groups _ led in large part by young immigrants _ since putting off until after the midterm elections a plan to use his executive authority to tackle immigration. He had said he would do so by the end of summer, which officially was Monday.
The postponement has led some to question whether Latinos should rethink their heavy support for Democrats in recent elections. Others have said Latinos need a Democrat-controlled Senate to achieve compassionate immigration reform and to secure other policies that benefit the community and that any anger should be focused on Republicans who have opposed immigration legislation.
“Since taking office, the president has been focused on issues of vital importance to the Hispanic community, from promoting job creation and a fair wage to making sure that Americans _ including Latinos who have the highest rates of un-insurance _ have access to quality health care, to reforms that strengthen and improve access to education, to fighting for commonsense immigration reform while standing up for the civil rights of all Americans," said White House spokeswoman Katherine Vargas.
Some of the president’s toughest critics have been young immigrants in the country illegally, often referred to as Dreamers. They and other groups have been generally critical of members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as well, saying most have not gone far enough in pressuring the president to move ahead with executive action.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, CHCI, is a non-profit whose board includes Latino members of Congress and that focuses on developing young Latinos and connecting them with political leaders. While members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have expressed disappointment with the president, they have tempered their criticism and have pushed for immigration reform and executive action.
Obama has been a near regular at the CHCI event, speaking at the gala three times as president and in 2008 as a candidate. He last addressed the crowd in 2011 and planned to attend last year but pulled out because of the government shutdown.
This would not be the first time Obama had had to address the failure of immigration reform to move forward at a CHCI event. In previous speeches, he has told attendees to “keep the heat on me” and keep the heat on Congress on immigration.
In a 2010 speech, Obama blamed Senate Republicans for failing to move forward on immigration. He said then his commitment was to get immigration done “as soon as we can” triggering some in the audience to shout “when?”
During that speech, the president reminded the crowd of his work also beneficial to Latinos such as health care, Pell grant expansion, credit card reform and protections for consumers from predatory lending, according to reports. He's likely to do so again, particularly as polls show Latinos put the economy and education at the top of their concerns.
But for about a year, as the numbers of deportations has topped 2 million, Obama has faced protests and was labeled deporter in chief by the leader of the National Council of La Raza.
His allies have argued Obama’s deportation record has been unfairly represented because his administration has focused on deporting criminals, removing people who have recently crossed U.S. borders and those who have been deported on a court order and returned illegally to the U.S.
In addition, his administration has set a priority list for deportations and Obama authorized the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shielded many young people from deportation and gave them permission to work.
But his critics say the deportation priorities are unevenly applied and too many families continue to be broken up by his policies.
On Monday immigrant advocates protested outside Democratic Party headquarters in Washington. "The president should keep his promise and allow us to stay together as a family," Teresa Galindo , a 70-year-old grandmother and mother, said in a statement issued by the DREAM Action Coalition.
Democrats have been hinting that Obama will “go bold” when he takes executive action, which the White House has said will happen before the end of the year.
Vice President Joe Biden said Congress may see some “lightning” if it doesn’t act on immigration reform in the lame duck session, which refers to the few weeks Congress meets after the election. He said the president is going to do “an awful lot.”
In a separate interview with NBC Latino, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also said she’s expecting strong action from Obama by the end of the year.