WASHINGTON – Bright lights,live music and famous faces couldn’t hide the disappointment Thursday at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual gala that President Barack Obama hasn’t been able to reform immigration laws.
Obama blamed House Republicans for lack of action on legislation and vowed to the audience of more than 2,000 that he would take executive action before the end of the year to fix a system he called “broken.”
“I’ve said before that if Congress failed to live up to its responsibilities to solve this problem,I would act to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own,” Obama said.
The noticeable tension,marked by a guest being escorted out for heckling Obama,contrasted with the elegant atmosphere and partial standing ovation given to the president.
Guests,consisting mostly of lawmakers,corporate sponsors and Hispanic community activists,gave varying responses to the speech.
“Honestly,there’s a great deal of disappointment on immigration reform,” Hispanic Federation President Jose Calderón said. “We will hold him accountable for what he is saying.”
Referring to the record number of deportations under Obama’s watch,Calderón said it is “unbelievable what has transpired … for us it really is enough is enough.”
Obama acknowledged executive action did not carry nearly the same weight as fixing the immigration system through legislation,noting that his executive actions could be undone by the next president.
“We need major reforms. We need them now,” Sen. Robert Menendez,D-N.J.,said in a speech at the gala. “And Mr. President,we need your help.”
Menendez said he supports the president taking executive action,calling for “bold,unapologetic,administrative relief.”
But others had a more positive outlook on his speech.
Rep. Linda Sánchez,D-Calif.,said Obama’s speech was “fabulous. I think he hit it out of the park,and that’s the man I voted for.”
Former Rep. Charles Gonzalez,a Democrat from San Antonio,said Obama’s speech was “very courageous,” and that the president’s “sincerity came through.”
“Words only mean so much. We’ve been hearing good speeches for so long but … where is the action?” Calderón said. “Unfortunately,he did not deliver on his promises.”
Later in the night,the gala gave awards to members of the Hispanic community for their service.
The caucus recognized former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville,Juliet V. García; labor activist Eliseo Medina,civil rights advocate Henry L. Fernández,and journalist José Díaz-Balart.
Grammy Award-winning band Los Lobos,famous for songs including “Del Este De Los Angeles” and their version of traditional Mexican folk song “La Bamba,” played at the end of the gala.
Hispanic people represent America’s fastest growing population. By 2060,31 percent of Americans are projected to be Hispanic,up from 17 percent in 2012.
“We’re here and we’re not going away,” Menendez said.
Reach reporter Lucas Daprile or 202-408-1490. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.