Leaders of a national Hispanic organization are criticizing President Barack Obama for skipping their annual conference for the third consecutive year after he promised as a candidate in 2008 that he would return as president.
Some members of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials also are questioning Obama’s commitment to immigration reform, noting that deportations have increased under his watch — even as the administration intensifies its outreach for Hispanic votes. NALEO, which includes more than 6,000 Latino leaders who represent major blocs of voters in key electoral states, opens its annual conference Thursday in San Antonio.
The rift is noteworthy — and even a little puzzling — because of the administration’s aggressive push for Hispanic support ahead of 2012. Obama’s campaign team is trying to raise historically low rates of Hispanic registration and voter turnout in at least a half-dozen swing states, and one Obama adviser involved in his reelection effort recently told POLITICO, “Hispanics could very well decide this election.”
In recent months, Obama has invited several Latino groups to the White House. He has stressed his support for overhauling immigration policy and for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would extend legal status to some young immigrants who go to college or into the military. He delivered a speech on immigration reform in El Paso, Texas, and last week, he made a quick trip to Puerto Rico.
“It is getting harder and harder for the president to go into a venue where he is confronted by Latinos because he is in a jam,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of Obama’s earliest Hispanic supporters and a member of NALEO.
“In front of a group like NALEO, blaming Republicans for their intransigence on immigration reform and not addressing what the president’s own administration is doing to immigrants would not wash,” said Gutierrez, who traveled with Obama to the 2008 NALEO conference. “So it isn’t surprising to me that the president is not showing up.”
Luis Miranda, a White House spokesman, said the administration has shown “unprecedented” work and outreach on issues important to Hispanics.
“The scope of the president’s efforts on behalf of Latinos and all Americans is not defined by his participation at one event, but rather by the work carried out every day to put our economy back on track and spur job creation, improve access to health care, strengthen education and reform our immigration system so that it meets America’s 21st century needs,” Miranda said.
“The president looks forward to continuing to work with Latino elected and appointed officials in the coming weeks and months on these issues as he and his administration have done over the past two years,” Miranda added.
After POLITICO raised questions about Obama’s attendance at NALEO, the White House informed the National Council of La Raza, another Hispanic organization, that Obama would attend its annual conference in July, according to La Raza spokesman Julian Teixeira.
When Obama addressed NALEO in 2008, the group’s executive director, Arturo Vargas, asked whether he would return in 2009, if elected.
Obama replied, “As president, I am looking forward to being back and addressing you.”
Three years later, NALEO is still waiting. Vargas said the invitation for this week’s conference was delivered to the White House a year ago.
“It’s more than a disappointment,” Vargas told POLITICO. “I don’t get it. I don’t think he’s given our membership the attention they deserve.”
Vargas said the White House told him Obama’s schedule is too tight to allow his attendance. The White House pressed NALEO to accept a video address by the president instead, according to the organization. NALEO declined.
“We’ve had numerous folks call and write, asking [that] he honor his commitment,” said NALEO President Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat from Texas. “They said no.”
Garcia and others asked for Attorney General Eric Holder or Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as potential substitutes for Obama. The administration is sending Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Salazar “will discuss the Obama administration’s priorities and the steps the administration has taken and will continue to take on behalf of Latinos and all Americans to put us back on the path to long-term prosperity and growth,” Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said.
She called the conference “a high priority for the White House as well as Secretary Salazar.”
But Juan C. Zapata, a Florida Republican and chairman of the NALEO Educational Fund, the organization’s nonprofit community outreach arm, called Obama “calculating” and “disingenuous.”
“He sent a very clear message to the Hispanic community that, ‘I want your support on the campaign, but I am not willing to do anything to earn it,’” Zapata said. President Obama no-show miffs Hispanics - Julie Mason - POLITICO.com
Hey its not about being an American, its about the color of my skin. Racism is alive and well.