CHICAGO — The high-ceilinged Teamsters Hall in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood was filled with families, local political leaders and would-be supporters of President Barack Obama. But even amid the high-profile talks in Washington, D.C., and around the country about the debt limit and the proper role and size of government, one issue was pre-eminent among the faithful here: immigration reform.
The mostly Hispanic group of attendees who poured into the Teamsters Local 705 headquarters on the corner of West Jackson Boulevard and Ashland Avenue just days before the July Fourth weekend came to hear Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) on the last stop of his multicity tour focusing on immigration. But they also came to send a message to Obama, whose re-election headquarters is located just a few train stops away from the hall.
"We came out in record numbers when we voted for Obama on a promise that he has broken," said Emma Lozano, executive director of the Chicago-based Centro Sin Fronteras, an immigration advocacy group. "And now he has to shore up, otherwise he won't get a second term. So we're going to lock up our votes until he does."
It's a tough message for the former Illinois state Senator, who pledged in 2008 to tackle immigration reform and in recent months has kicked up his talk on the issue that is paramount to Latino voters. But attendees of the Gutierrez event said Obama must take further action and use his executive authority to help the students and members of the military who would be eligible for citizenship under the DREAM Act. The bill, which would provide a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants who agree to go to college or join the military, was approved in the House during the lame-duck session last December, but it narrowly failed in the Senate a few days later. With more Republicans in Congress now, the legislation faces long odds.
"I want to thank everybody that's working in the Senate and working in the House on the DREAM Act. I wish them godspeed," Gutierrez said, speaking before the crowd of listeners. "But let me tell you something, I was there last [year]; 216 Democrats voted for the DREAM Act, and we passed it in the House of Representatives. There are only [192 Democrats] left."
Gutierrez, the 10-term Democrat who represents a Hispanic-majority district in Chicago, said the issue of immigration would not have a better fate under a Republican president and added that he wants Obama to be re-elected. But after visiting 27 cities over the span of three months to focus on immigration, Gutierrez said the mood is not as bright as it was in 2008.