WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hispanic lawmakers and immigration advocates harshly criticized President Barack Obama’s decision to delay executive action on immigration and vowed to keep pressuring him to make bold changes.
Democratic Representatives Luis Gutierrez and Tony Cardenas on Sunday accused Obama of playing politics the day after the president said he would wait until after November’s congressional elections to change policy on immigration.
The announcement marked a reversal for Obama, who publicly promised to act by the end of summer.
“Playing it safe might win an election,” Gutierrez said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “But it almost never leads to fairness, to justice and to good public policy that you can be proud of.”
Senate Democrats at risk of losing their seats in the November elections pressed the White House to hold off an executive order.
Though many immigration advocates have been pushing hard for the White House to ease up on deportations of undocumented immigrations, wariness among the broader public began to build this summer, fueled by Republican accusations that executive actions would mark an overstepping of Obama’s authority.
Democrats worry that an executive action could cause them to lose control of the Senate in November.
Gutierrez, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a passionate advocate of immigration reform, said he had called Obama and White House officials after hearing the executive action would be delayed. He said he expects to meet with administration officials this week on the issue.
Cardenas, who is also part of the Hispanic Caucus, said of Obama: “we all are frustrated with him right now because he’s taken way too long to take his executive actions.”
“I don’t like what the president’s advisers may be telling him. I can only speculate that they’ve encouraged them to wait. I would prefer he do it now,” Cardenas told the CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
Immigrant advocacy groups also criticized the delay.
“The president’s latest broken promise is another slap to the face of the Latino and immigrant community,” Cristina Jimenez, managing director for United We Dream, said in a statement on Saturday.
United We Dream asked supporters on social media to use the hashtag, “#deporterinchief,” to urge Obama to pull back from deporting undocumented immigrants.
The Senate last year passed a sweeping immigration bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants within the United States. But the bill stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Republican opponents of the Senate bill have labeled it “amnesty” for people who entered the country illegally.
Obama made clear in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he still planned to take action on immigration but said he would work to build support for such steps.
He said the surge of unaccompanied minors flooding across the southern border became a concern for many Americans and influenced the broader debate over immigration.
“And you know, the truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem,” Obama said in the interview, which was taped Saturday and aired Sunday.
“I want to spend some time, even as we’re getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we’re doing this, why it’s the right thing for the American people, why it’s the right thing for the American economy,” he added.
Additional reporting by Will Dunham and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Caren Bohan and Paul Simao