President Barack Obama spoke Monday at the National Council of La Raza conference in Washington, D.C. I watched via live webstream as the president address the leading Latino civil rights organization.
I was surprised that Obama waited until he was halfway into his speech before he mentioned the DREAM Act or immigration reform.
He talked about the deficit, the economy, health care and other issues before he got to immigration.
He eventually mentioned his support of the DREAM Act and that the nation's broken immigration laws need to be fixed. But President Obama insists that he can't use his executive powers to change immigration policy.
"Some want me to bypass Congress," the president said.
And he was then interrupted by DREAM Act supporters in the audience who chanted, "Yes you can!"
The president laughed nervously and then tried to explain.
"That's not how our system works. That's now how our Democracy functions. That is not how our Constitution is written," he insisted.
Other than to say laws are laws, the president hasn't explained in detail why he couldn't use some of his executive powers to change laws he admits are broken. A group of attorneys, including two former general consuls with then INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) disagree. They and other immigration attorneys wrote a memo that explained the use of executive power as it relates to immigration. It's in legalese but let me simplify.
The president's logic is that he can't as an individual change immigration policy.
However, every day at the borders, ports and airports there are individual immigration officials employed by the U.S. government making decisions about who can enter and who can't. Every day there are immigration officials making decisions about who to deport, who to parole and who to detain across the United States.
So why can't the president do the same?
If low-level immigration government employees essentially interpret the law, then why can't President Obama? Immigration laws are not so black and white. Everybody is not treated equally under immigration law. Just look at the policies we have for Cubans compared to Mexicans. And every day officials make decisions that can be seen as interpreting the law.
Well, the president blames the Republicans for failing to address immigration reform. Yes they are refusing to come to the table. Politicians like Sen. John McCain have turned their backs on immigration reform.
But remember five Senate Democrats refused to support the DREAM Act last year. So Obama has to get all his party on board.
The president has to do more than make speeches to convince Latino leaders that he can make immigration reform happen.
"We are one family and we need each other," the president said.
In the meantime some immigrant youth who could benefit from the DREAM Act are facing deportation and families continue to be separated and divided.