After actively courting the Hispanic vote and reiterating his support for comprehensive immigration reform throughout the 2009 presidential campaign, immigrants' rights activists nationwide agree that it is time for Obama to deliver on his campaign promises.
In a July 1 speech, his first major address on the issue since taking office, Obama stated the need for reform, calling on bipartisan support to fix what he called a "broken" system.
"After years of patchwork fixes and ill-conceived revisions, the legal immigration system is as broken as the borders," Obama said. "Stopping illegal immigration must go hand in hand with reforming our creaky system of legal immigration."
"It has been a long time coming because Latino voters turned out strong for Obama and one of the biggest reasons was his commitment to immigration reform," says Estela Ortega, the Executive Director of El Centro de la Raza, a local nonprofit that assists Seattle's Latino population.
Obama discussed both the need for providing a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States as well as the need to secure the country's borders.
His speech came amidst weeks of escalating action by immigrants' rights activists, largely triggered by the state of Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigration through its April passage of the nation's toughest bill on immigration to date. The bill, which is slated to go into effect on July 27, aims to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants living in the border state.
"Everywhere, people have expressed frustration with a system that seems fundamentally broken," Obama said.
Last month, local activists gained national attention when they blocked a busy downtown intersection in front of the Federal Building, prompting the arrest of 22 protestors. The demonstration, organized by the Washington Immigration Reform Coalition, called on the federal government to proceed with reform that safeguards illegal workers and reunites families separated by the current immigration system.
"Given that we have been marching peacefully, talking to legislators and working on the issue since 2002, we're clearly not being heard. Our action helped continue to lift up the urgency and frustration of people across the country and here in Seattle regarding the failure to be heard by the federal government," says Pramila Jayapal, the Executive Director of OneAmerica, who was one of the arrestees.
OneAmerica, the largest immigrant advocacy organization in Washington State, organized a live screening of the speech, which was attended by immigrants' rights activists, supporters, and community leaders from across the greater Seattle area.
"Everyone was disappointed that there weren't more concrete actions outlined," says Jayapal of the attendees' reactions to the speech. According to Jayapal, the speech was not directed at activists but rather to the American public at large. "The goal of the speech was to explain the complexities of the issue in a way the American people could understand."
"On the other hand, we recognize that this was a big step for the [Obama] administration