- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2011

A coalition of community and faith-based pro-immigration groups who helped elect President Obama in 2008 will begin a series of town-hall meetings and news conferences Tuesday in California to tell the president that the nations immigration system is “broken” and to remind him of campaign pledges he made to fix it.

It will call on the president to take “urgent action to begin to fix the dysfunctional and inconsistent system,” and organizers said they hope to “shine a spotlight on the record number of deportations under the Obama administration.” They said petitions that will be circulated will urge Mr. Obama to “exercise his ample executive discretion to provide relief to immigrant families.”

“Unfortunately, while we wait for Congress and the White House to regain enough gumption to confront this issue, our loved ones continue to be beaten, tased, killed, deported, raided, fired, violated, abused and criminalized,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. CHIRLA is helping to coordinate the events.

Ms. Salas said Mr. Obama is in California this week because of the “strategic, political and financial” importance of the state, where one-fourth of the nations immigrants live. She said he was received with “effusive accolades” two years ago because of his promise for change and although immigration reform was going to be difficult, “we believed in his enthusiasm and commitment to prioritize and press for the issue to be dealt with in Congress.”

She said his audience will be less enthusiastic this time because after two years his administration “has managed to detain and deport 1 million immigrants, tear apart countless families and hurt many local economies.” She said not one immigration reform bill has been successful during his presidency.

Although Mr. Obama has expressed a “deep commitment” to bringing about reform and wants to reach a balanced solution to the problem, she said, “wanting and doing are two different things.”

Last year, CHIRLA turned out hundreds of thousands of supporters in rallies across the country demanding that Congress and Mr. Obama slow interior immigration enforcement and move to legalize illegal immigrants. Those rallies began after a March 2010 meeting at the White House where coalition leaders demanded that Mr. Obama halt deportations and push senators for a reform bill he would sign.

A week after that meeting, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, announced the outline of an immigration deal and Mr. Obama endorsed it, giving immigrant rights supporters a boost. But action has since stalled, prompting the new set of demands and proposed rallies.

CHIRLA has helped schedule seven stops in Southern and Northern California to hear from local leaders and elected officials, and to highlight the stories of families facing separation because of U.S. immigration policies. A coast-to-coast tour, not scheduled, would follow as part of what is billed as the “Campaign for American Children and Families,” whose motto is, “Change Takes Courage.”

During a speech Thursday at a town-hall meeting in Palo Alto, Calif., Mr. Obama said he wants to complete immigration reform before his presidency ends. He said the United States needs immigrants who are educated, who have needed skills for the workplace and who will open businesses and help create jobs.

Mr. Obama, who won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008, enlisted a group of elected officials and religious, business, labor, civil rights leaders and law enforcement officials in a meeting last week to help build support for his stalled overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. Included were the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network; Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles City Council member; Philadelphia Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey; and Bill Bratton, former Los Angeles and New York City police chief.

Mr. Bratton said the president asked the group to “commit to moving forward to keep the debate about this issue alive, to keep it alive in the sense that it can get before Congress, where the ultimate resolution of it will have to be obtained.”

Frank Sharry, executive director of Americas Voice, who attended the meeting, said the president “made it clear he is willing to use whatever political capital he has” to bring about immigration reform. “It shows that he is raising the stakes on the issue and underscores the fact that doing nothing is not an option,” he said.

In a statement, the White House said Mr. Obama has pledged to continue working with Congress and will lead a “civil debate” on the issue in the months ahead.

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