WASHINGTON – Hundreds of spectators cheered and applauded as President Barack Obama promised to work to pass the Dream Act, which would allow some young immigrants to become U.S. citizens.
“I will do everything in my power to make the Dream Act a reality,” he said.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attended the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 34th Annual Awards Gala on Wednesday to kick off his administration’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration.
“I don’t have to tell you these are tough times. You know how hard this recession has hit families, especially Latino families,” Obama said.
According to the latest data released by the United States Census Bureau, the income of Hispanic households declined 2.3 percent from 2010 to 2011. They earn $16,861 less annually than non-Hispanic white households.
“In the face of a national emergency, can we finally put a stop to the political circus and actually do something to help the economy? Can we restore some of the fairness and the security that has defined this nation since our founding?” Obama said. “I believe we can, and I believe we must. And that’s why, on Monday, I sent the American Jobs Act to Congress and asked them to pass it right away.”
Obama referred to the bill as a simple way to create jobs, increase the income for those who need it, aid education and provide tax cuts for small businesses and working families. But to make this possible, he urged the audience members to keep voicing their needs.
“If you think it’s time to give businesses the incentive to hire, and put more money into your pockets, make yourself heard. Tell Congress to do the right thing,” Obama said.
Leaders of the Hispanic community, including Justice Sonia Sotomayor; Janet Murgía, president of the National Council of La Raza; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis attended dinner. Salazar and Solis were given awards.
Rene Aguilera, a member of the California Association of Latino Elected Officials Board of Directors, said the speech “gave me hope that he is listening to the Latino community.”
Hispanics gave Obama 62 percent of their vote in 2008. Many are disappointed, however, because Obama has failed to win immigration reform or the Dream Act, and an estimated 393,000 people have been deported during his administration.
“It’s heartbreaking to see these incredibly bright, gifted people barred from contributing to our country and to our economy. Because the truth is, reforming our immigration system is crucial for our economic future,” Obama said.
The audience applauded while Obama and the first lady shook hundreds of reaching hands as they left the dinner.
Editor’s note: This story was previously published on Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.