Latino Advocate Is Not Impressed With 'Deporter-In-Chief'

Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the largest Latino advocacy group in the U.S., explains her criticism of the Obama administration's policy on deportations and border security.

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Audie Cornish.

Earlier this year, it seemed like immigration reform might return to the top of the legislative agenda.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Finally, if we're serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement, and fix our broken immigration system.

(APPLAUSE)

CORNISH: But in his State of the Union speech, President Obama devoted little more than a paragraph to the topic and the effort by House Republican leaders to build momentum for immigration overhaul bills fell apart almost immediately.

Meanwhile, under President Obama, the number of deportations has reached nearly two million. And today, the head of the nation's largest Latino advocacy group, the National Council of La Raza, denounced the president as deporter-in-chief.

Janet Murguia, president and CEO of La Raza, joins us now. Welcome to the program.

JANET MURGUIA: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

CORNISH: Now, for much of the administration, your organization has very much stood by the White House. What's the change in tone? What's with this criticism?

MURGUIA: Well, I think it's fair to say that we are still working with the White House to accomplish a comprehensive immigration reform. But the fact is, is that we're about to hit the two million mark when it comes to the level of deportations. Our community really is in crisis. And we believe that the president can do more to stop unnecessary deportations.

CORNISH: But deporter-in-chief?

MURGUIA: Well, that's not personal. It is actually a fact. He has been - overseen an administration that has deported more individuals than any previous administration before. And for us, this is really about making sure that that's understood.

CORNISH: Now, the number of deportations under President Obama - you're right - has gone up every year, except for last year, when it actually came down about 10 percent. And the president did also act unilaterally on immigration once before, when his administration put limits on deportation, the so-called DREAMers. These are immigrants brought to the U.S. as children illegally. I gather that these steps aren't enough for you.

MURGUIA: Well, the fact is is that there's still a large majority of individuals are being deported who have criminal record and we find that unacceptable. And so we believe there's a lot more work that can be done. They can better implement their own policy when it comes to prosecutorial discretion. And I will say that despite the president and this administration's protestations that they don't have the authority or the power to do so, they said that about the DREAMers. And yet, they were able to still provide some relief, albeit temporary. We believe that they will be able to do more and we need them to do more.

CORNISH: You recently called for a stop to unnecessary deportations. And what exactly falls under that category?

MURGUIA: So, I think, many in our community, there's a sense that if you don't have a criminal record and you've been here contributing, then you shouldn't be selectively deported. On the other hand, if there has been a criminal record established by these individuals, I think people understand the laws have to be in place to protect the interests of the U.S. But I think there is a lot of disagreement over how the administration is implementing the policy around prosecutorial discretion.

CORNISH: But, you know, if President Obama used his power to do this, wouldn't that just reinforce arguments by Republicans, by conservative immigration activists who say that he can't be trusted to enforce the law and, therefore, they don't want to have anything to do with immigration reform efforts.

MURGUIA: Well, that's a circular argument that we no longer accept in that when Speaker Boehner says, on the one hand, they can no longer trust the president to enforce the laws. And yet, on the other hand, we've had the highest levels of deportations in the history of the U.S. You can't use that argument both ways and we're just calling them out. We're calling out Congress and we're calling out the president.

CORNISH: Janet Murguia, she's president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

MURGUIA: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

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