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WASHINGTON _ The leader of the National Council of La Raza declared President Barack Obama "deporter-in-chief" and lashed out at House members for failing on immigration reform on Tuesday.
Janet Murguía, NCLR president, recalled a statement by House Speaker John Boehner attributing the GOP's immigration reform stall in January to doubt whether the Obama administration can be trusted to enforce U.S. laws.
"Seriously? Failing to enforce our laws? For us, this president has been the deporter-in-chief," she said in a speech at NCLR's awards gala to mild applause.
Noting that the administration is soon to reach 2 million deportees under Obama's watch, Murguía said "we respectfully disagree with the president" who has said he cannot use executive authority to suspend deportations.
"He can stop tearing families apart. He can stop throwing communities and businesses into chaos. He can stop turning a blind eye to true harm being done. He does have the power to stop this. Failure to act will be a shameful legacy for his presidency," she said, earning more enthusiastic applause.
NCLR previously has called for an end to the deportations, but less forcefully. Murguía spoke emotionally about deportations at the group's conference last year and at the 2011 meeting she said Latino patience on the issue was wearing thin.
NCLR is an umbrella group for numerous organizations that serve the Latino community on health, housing, finances, immigration needs and other issues. The tough words served as something of a pep talk for hundreds of members of NCLR affiliates who planned to advocate for immigration reform before members of Congress on Wednesday and Thursday.
On Wednesday, House Republicans were scheduled to consider and possibly vote on a bill introduced Tuesday designed to "rein in" Obama's use of executive powers.
Despite the criticism of Congress on immigration reform, NCLR honored eight Senate members, known as the Gang of Eight, who hammered out a bipartisan immigration reform plan. NCLR is the second Latino group to give Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., an award for his work with the Gang of Eight, even though he has since abandoned the bill and warned the House against conferencing on the comprehensive immigration reform bill. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., were at the gala to accept their awards.
In his acceptance speech, before Murguía spoke, Menendez also called for a united front in the call for an end to deportations. He specifically named family of U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and DREAMers.
Threats to rally Latino voters against House members that oppose immigration seem to have done little to nudge Republicans. They also are getting intense lobbying from conservative members of their base who oppose immigration reform. Also, the GOP sees a chance to win the Senate this November and some opponents have suggested immigration reform be put off until Republicans control Congress once again.
In addition, some 11 million Latinos who are eligible to vote, either didn't show up at the polls or didn't register and so did not participate in the 2012 elections, NCLR has said. Leticia Van De Putte, a Democratic seeking to be Texas' lieutenant governor, said last week at the gala held by the League of United Latin American Citizens, Latinos will get comprehensive immigration reform when they show up at the ballot box.