President Obama told an Hispanic audience Wednesday night he will do “everything in my power” to enact the Dream Act, which would prevent the deportation of illegal immigrants studying at American colleges or having served in the military.
The legislation has faced strong opposition for nearly a decade. But in his remarks to the annual Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s gala at the Washington Convention Center, Mr. Obama targeted Republicans in the current Congress for playing politics with the bill.
“Last year, we saw the Dream Act passed in the House, only to be blocked by Senate Republicans,” Mr. Obama said. “And now for the first time in a decade, the bill doesn’t have a single Republican co-sponsor, not one. Nothing about the language of the legislation changed. The only thing that changed was politics in Washington.”
He added, “It’s heartbreaking, to see innocent young people denied the right to earn an education, or serve in the military, because of their parents’ action, and because of the actions of a few politicians in Washington.”
The administration has begun to bypass Congress this year and relax deportation standards. In June, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said agents should exercise discretion in deciding who should be deported.
“How we enforce those laws is also important,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s why the Department of Homeland Security is applying common-sense standards for immigration enforcement. And we’ve made progress so that our enforcement policies prioritize criminals who endanger our communities, not students trying to achieve the American dream.”
The Hispanic vote is crucial to Mr. Obama’s reelection chances in 2012, and he has been courting the community tirelessly, including a trip to Puerto Rico this summer. The White House is in the midst of month-long participation in various events marking Hispanic Heritage Month.
The president said he longed for the day when House Minority Leader Nancy E. Pelosi, California Democrat, would become Speaker again to support legislation such as the Dream Act.
“I wish I could wave my magic wand,” Mr. Obama said. “Until Nancy Pelosi is speaker again… At the end of the day, I can’t do this all by myself. We’re going to have to get Congress to act. I know Nancy Pelosi’s ready to act. It’s time to stop playing politics.”
He urged the crowd to lobby Congress for “an immigration policy that works.”
“In this country there is no ‘us’ or ‘them,’ there is only us — one nation, under God, indivisible, and immigrants are part of that American family,” Mr. Obama said.