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President Obama, Arizona, and Immigration Hardball

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Last night President Obama weighed in again on the immigration debate and Arizona’s controversial new law, according to Scott Wilson of the Washington Post:

President Obama told a White House reception Wednesday that he wants “to begin work this year” on comprehensive immigration reform, warning the audience that securing the legislation will be difficult but possible.

Addressing an audience celebrating Cinco de Mayo in the Rose Garden, Obama said, “America’s diversity is America’s strength.” That, he added, is why he has spoken out against Arizona’s recently passed immigration law, which has raised concerns of racial profiling.

“We can’t start singling out people because of who they look like,” he said to applause. “That’s why we have to close the door on this kind of misconceived action by meeting our obligations here in Washington.”

The Arizona law has given more urgency to the push for immigration reform, as have the imperatives of election-year politics.

The President has come under fire from Latino and immigrant advocacy groups in the past weeks and months for a perceived lack of concrete action on his promise to overhaul the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system in a fair way. This is epitomized by mounting criticism against the Administration’s ratcheted-up enforcement policies in the absence of federal reform. Right now there’s no way for undocumented immigrants to get into the system and get legal, and unscrupulous employers continue to be able to exploit workers.

According to the AP:

Latino groups have been calling for Obama to deliver on his campaign promise of making immigration reform a top priority, with some activists and lawmakers in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus complaining he wasn’t doing enough.

Obama clouded the issue last week by saying “there may not be an appetite” in Congress to deal with another hot-button issue immediately after grueling fights over health care and financial regulation.

In fact, these concerns, mixed with outrage over Arizona’s new immigration law, boiled over on Saturday, May 1st. Hundreds of thousands of protesters in over 100 cities across the country took to the streets to peacefully but firmly put their foot down against Arizona’s SB 1070 and stand up for immediate, federal action on immigration. In Washington, D.C., these protests included escalated calls for action. Irish Central characterized Chicago Congressman Luis Gutierrez’ act of civil disobedience at the DC immigration rally a wakeup call for the Administration, in terms of how serious the Latino and immigrant communities are on this issue.

Watch the video of Rep. Gutierrez being arrested in front of thousands of supporters at the White House, to get a sense of the mood:

But it is not just Latino and immigrant communities who think a fair fix to immigration is long overdue.