President Barack Obama on Thursday rejected criticism from a prominent Hispanic leader who dubbed him the "deporter in chief" for the record number of undocumented migrants deported since he took office.
"I am the champion-in-chief of comprehensive immigration reform," he declared during a forum at the Newseum in Washington to promote the registration of Latinos in the new medical insurance plans available under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
The president thus responded to one of the country's most important Hispanic figures, National Council of La Raza head Janet Murguia, who had sharply criticized Obama earlier this week.
"For us, this president has been the deporter in chief," she said Tuesday during a La Raza awards dinner in Washington. "Any day now, this administration will reach the 2 million mark for deportations.
Questioned on Thursday about the record number of deportations during his mandate, Obama reiterated that as long as Congress does not act to reform the immigration system he does not have the authority to stop those expulsions.
"I cannot ignore those laws any more than I can ignore any other laws on the books," the president said, noting that he had used his executive authority to suspend deportations of many young immigrants who were children when their parents brought them to the United States.
Last June, the Senate approved a bipartisan bill on immigration reform that strengthens border security and includes a path to citizenship for undocumented foreigners.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has yet to take up the measure.
When asked on Thursday about whether his credibility among Hispanics has been damaged by the deportations and the apparent impossibility at present of moving forward on immigration reform, Obama answered: "I think the community understands that I've got their back and I'm fighting for them." EFE