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.
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.
Ms. Hong said the Obama administration is using all the right words about backing a broad immigration bill but is taking “massive enforcement actions.”
She also said stepping up enforcement of “dysfunctional and unenforceable” laws is not a solution, and said the activists hope to push Mr. Obama away from enforcement and back toward his campaign promises.
“Today was the one event that we didn’t want to have,” she said. “We didn’t want to be protesting President Obama’s immigration policy and Napolitano’s policy, it really pains us to be picketing.”
One immigrant rights group said it expects Democratic senators to introduce legislation this week rolling back some of Mr. Obama’s new enforcement plans.
But Ms. Hong and other activists blasted the move, saying that if Mr. Obama continues to pile up enforcement without any action on legalization it will cost him politically.