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In a stark reversal of its diplomatic approach to the Obama administration’s controversial handling of immigration, the largest and oldest Latino civil rights group in the United States is attacking the president for deporting more immigrants than any other in the nation’s history.
The president of the National Council of La Raza, in fact, plans to make the group’s frustration and anger over the nearly 2 million deportations the focus of her speech at its annual Capital Awards dinner Tuesday night, where nearly 800 legislative, corporate and community leaders are expected to be in the audience.
“For the president, I think his legacy is at stake here,” NCLR president Janet Murguía said in an interview with Politico. “We consider him the Deportation President, or the Deporter-in-Chief.”
He can stop turning a blind eye to the harm being done. He does have the power to stop this. Failure to act will be a shameful legacy for his presidency.
In what Politico described as part of the speech Murguia is expected to deliver, she reportedly will say: “We respectfully disagree with the president on his ability to stop unnecessary deportations. He can stop tearing families apart. He can stop throwing communities and businesses into chaos."
"He can stop turning a blind eye to the harm being done," the speech says. "He does have the power to stop this. Failure to act will be a shameful legacy for his presidency.”
To draw a contrast, apparently, NCLR will present awards at the gala to “two groups that have been outspoken on issues that significantly impact the Latino community.”
One will go to a bipartisan group of U.S. senators who drafter a comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed in June. The so-called “Gang of Eight” includes Michael Bennet (D–Colo.), Richard Durbin (D–Ill.), Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.), John McCain (R–Ariz.), Robert Menendez (D–N.J.), Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) and Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.).
The other award will go to “Fast for Families,” which has held hunger strikes to highlight what its members say is the need for an immigration reform bill that will give many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country a chance to legalize their status.
“This group is recognized for embodying the moral core of the immigration movement and the fight for just reform,” NCLR said in a statement. “With this award, NCLR pays tribute to the fasters who selflessly gave face to this effort."
"Fast for Families recently kicked off a nationwide bus tour and will be hosting events throughout the country, continuing to show leaders from the House of Representatives the sacrifices that individuals will make in order for comprehensive immigration legislation to be enacted.”
Advocates of more lenient immigration policies have increasingly turned up the pressure on Obama to stop or reduce deportations, and years ago dubbed him “Deporter-in-Chief.” But NCLR, which has had a cordial relationship with the White House, has been criticized for not being forceful enough with the administration on immigration matters.
The Obama administration hired NCLR’s former vice president, Cecilia Muñoz, in 2009 to head the office of intergovernmental affairs and later elevated her to head the White House Domestic Policy Council.
Recently, Politico singled out NCLR as one of the few liberal-leaning groups that have been reluctant to join the pressure on the president to stem deportations and take other steps in the face of congressional inaction on immigration reform.
“There have been different times when we’ve hit the president pretty hard,” she said. “But I know not everybody agrees with that.”
But it seems like now the group is ready to come out swinging.
Murguia was quoted in Politico as depicting the Tuesday speech as part of a three-pronged offensive approach to press Congress. That will include a goal of registering 250,000 new Latino voters with an eye toward the November midterm elections.
President Obama has responded to criticism about his handling of immigration by pointing the blame on Republicans in Congress, and saying that he cannot unilaterally make certain key changes to the system. Katherine Vargas, White House spokeswoman, did not immediately return phone calls from Fox News Latino seeking comment about NCLR’s remarks.
Some of his fellow Democrats in Congress, particularly Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and a leading proponent of providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, has called on Obama to apply powers that the congressman says the president has at his disposal to make certain reforms.
“Their credibility is growing thinner and thinner by the day and people know that they did it before and I think we believe that they can do it again,” Murguia said.