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Democratic legislator slams Obama for failure to deliver on immigration reform, warns of Latino backlash at the polls

February 1, 2010 |  1:31 pm
Many Latinos are furious at President Obama for failing to deliver on promises to push immigration reform legislation and may stay away from the polls during this year's midterm elections if they don't see concrete progress, including legalization of undocumented immigrants, a key Democratic legislator said Monday.

“People are angry and disillusioned,” U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) said in an interview with The Times.

Gutierrez said that Obama’s failure to push immigration reform was symbolized by his State of the Union address last Wednesday, when he devoted only 38 of about 7,300 words to the issue. The “throwaway line,” Gutierrez said, was the final straw for many activists who have been perturbed by the continued pace of deportations and other enforcement actions without concomitant progress in moving reform legislation forward.

Gutierrez said he was short at least 12 votes in the House to pass his immigration legislation, which would legalize most of the nation’s 12 million undocumented migrants, provide more family visas, increase worker protections and offer other reforms. He acknowledged that selling the bill to the American public at a time of double-digit unemployment would not be easy.

But he and Los Angeles labor leader Maria Elena Durazo argued that legalizing undocumented immigrants would help the nation’s economic recovery by raising their wages and allowing them to spend more consumer dollars.

To push their cause, he said, immigrant rights supporters were organizing a national mobilization on March 21.

Without progress, the congressman warned that many Latinos would stay home from the polls this year and for the 2012 presidential election. According to exit polls, Obama received 61% of the Latino vote in 2008, boosting him to victory in the former Republican strongholds of Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida.

“We need to hold all of our political leaders accountable,” he said.

Gutierrez was to speak at an immigration town-hall event on Monday at La Placita Church in downtown Los Angeles. The meeting, which will feature several elected officials, immigrant rights activists and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, is aimed at bringing renewed visibility to the issue.

-- Teresa Watanabe