- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2009

Three years after President Obama marched alongside Hispanic and immigrant rights activists, they took to the streets Wednesday to march against him, saying he has betrayed them by embracing George W. Bush administration efforts to stem illegal immigration.

Activists marched in Los Angeles and picketed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s appearance in New York, angered over the administration’s recent embrace of an electronic verification system for employers and a program that allows local police to enforce immigration laws.

The protests highlight the tough political spot Mr. Obama faces: He enjoyed strong support from Hispanics in last year’s election, but activists say he’s now risking their support in the future.

“I see the sense of betrayal creeping up,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, which organized the protest against Ms. Napolitano.

The coalition said the administration is using the right words on immigrant rights but taking the wrong actions to boost enforcement.

“A lot of people see the actions of Secretary Napolitano going in the opposite direction of the reform President Obama promised,” she said.

The protests erupted as a report by the Center for Immigration Studies says stepped-up enforcement since 2007 has helped cut the illegal immigrant population in the United States.

The group advocates the reduction of illegal immigration through strong enforcement measures.

The report, being released Thursday morning, says the illegal immigrant population peaked at 12.5 million in summer 2007, or just as Congress was debating a legalization program, but has since fallen to 10.8 million.

Steven A. Camarota and Karen Jensenius, the report’s authors, said the fact that legal immigration has not declined shows that enforcement, not the economy, is responsible for the decline in illegal immigrants.

The authors said the electronic employment verification known as E-verify and the police enforcement program were among the key enforcement tools that expanded after 2007 and contributed to the drop.

Speaking in New York to the Council on Foreign Relations, Ms. Napolitano defended the White House’s decision to move forward with a crackdown on illegal immigration.

“We are expanding enforcement, but I think in the right way,” she said.

In particular, she defended the local police enforcement program - known as 287(g) because of the section of law that authorizes it - saying it was created by the Clinton administration but went astray. She said the Obama administration has taken steps to add accountability and protections to the program and to push local police to focus on dangerous criminal illegals.

As former governor of Arizona with experience handling this thorny issue, Ms. Napolitano is supposed to help Mr. Obama navigate immigration by helping him craft an enforcement strategy in the near term even as she helps him push Congress for a broader bill in the long term.

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