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Obama bemoans Congress's inaction on immigration reform, too

It's not all about the debt ceiling. In a speech to the Latino community – a key voter bloc for 2012 – Obama on Monday blamed Republicans for blocking immigration reform at the federal level.

By Staff writer / July 25, 2011

President Barack Obama waves as he prepares to walks off stage after delivering remarks at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) annual conference luncheon in Washington, on July 25.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Washington

President Obama’s impasse with congressional Republicans over the debt ceiling wasn’t far from thought Monday as he made a campaign-style speech to a key constituency, the Latino community.

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Speaking to the National Council of La Raza, the largest Latino civil rights organization in the US, Mr. Obama expressed regret over having to enforce deportation laws that split up families and deny educational opportunities to young people who immigrated illegally through no choice of their own.

“Now, I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own,” Obama said. “And believe me, right now dealing with Congress...”

The Obama-friendly crowd interrupted him with cries of “Yes you can! Yes you can!”

“Believe me,” he continued. “Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting.”

But, Obama quickly added, “That’s not how our democracy functions. That's not how our Constitution is written.”

Both in dealing with immigration laws he dislikes and in trying to reach agreement with congressional Republicans to raise the debt ceiling before the nation risks beginning to default on Aug. 2, Obama captured the frustration of governing in a system with checks and balances – and a sharp partisan divide on Capitol Hill.

In his address to the La Raza annual luncheon here in Washington, Obama highlighted the issue that is front and center to Americans of all races and ethnicities – jobs and the economy. Among Latinos, the unemployment rate is 11.6 percent, well above the overall national rate of 9.2 percent.

“I don't need to tell you Latino unemployment is painfully high,” Obama said, reminding the crowd that slow job growth and stagnant wages were problems before the recession hit.

Obama also blamed Congress for not approving bipartisan proposals – such as pending free trade agreements – that he says would help create jobs. “I’d appreciate if you all would help me convince them to do it,” he said.

But it was the immigration issue that got the crowd most fired up. As with the economy, Obama put the blame squarely on the Republicans’ shoulders. Five years ago, he noted, 23 Republican senators supported comprehensive immigration reform – a plan that would both secure America’s borders and establish a path to citizenship for those in the US illegally. Now, he says, “they’ve walked away,” and the nation is left with a state-by-state patchwork of laws that is unworkable.

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