President Obama’s immigration move last week “isn’t the end of a process, but maybe the beginning,” says Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. The organization is the country’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group.
We spoke briefly with Murguia after Obama’s address at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials on Friday afternoon. She said that Obama in his address effectively “leveraged” his move, and she called Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) “a transformative figure, not just for the Latino community but for the Republican Party.”
A transcript of our interview follows:
Q: What did you think of President Obama’s NALEO speech today?
“I think he leveraged off of his announcement last week in a very effective way, and I think that he saw the positive response he was hoping for here. And I think it’s also reflected across the country. We’re seeing a lot of real enthusiasm being generated out of that announcement, and I think that’s translating into considerable support for him.”
What about the argument that this is just election-year politicking?
“Obviously, I think there is some politics to this. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s the right thing to do, and people see it as a really positive step and possibly a breakthrough moment, even if it’s on a temporary basis. It’s offering folks in the community out there a little bit of hope that this isn’t the end of a process but maybe the beginning.”
What did you think about Marco Rubio’s speech today?
“Look, I think he is emerging as a transformative figure, not just for the Latino community but for the Republican Party, and really we’re seeing him emerge as a future national leader, there’s no question about it. This is someone who’s very articulate and very connected to the substance of which he’s talking about and therefore comes across with a lot of credibility and authenticity. And honestly, while he’s still young and new in his role, I don’t think it’s too far to say that had he not considered and worked on a draft of a DREAM-type of bill and taken the process as he did, I’m not sure we would have seen the Obama administration take this action. I think that he provided a lot of the groundwork and a lot of cover to the administration in taking this step.”
What kind of cover did he give them?
“I think the fact that there were Republicans who knew that this was tied to Marco Rubio’s idea and concept made it very difficult for them to come out and necessarily attack the president or reject this. And I think that’s why you’re seeing Romney struggling with this answer of whether he would repeal it.”
So Rubio, whether he meant to or not, gave Obama cover.
“Yeah. And I think he was doing this to try to find a way to get some relief for those young people. And I’m not sure we would have agreed on the final legislation that he would’ve done, because it looks like it would’ve given it a sense of permanency; it would’ve made the bill permanent. But because the concept was laid out by a Republican and a Hispanic, I think that gave the administration the encouragement and cover that it might’ve needed to move forward.”
“The fact that he met with DREAMers and the fact that they were engaged in those conversations with them, this could’ve gone a different way. But the administration did the smart thing and the right thing.”
Do you think Obama will perform as well among Hispanics as he did in 2008 on Election Day?
“You know, people are looking at the polls and we’re seeing that he’s got a significant lead when it comes to Latino voters right now. The real question will be, will this enthusiasm be translated into folks actually going to the polls in November? And I think that, you know, there was an enthusiasm gap before. This announcement has helped with the enthusiasm gap; there’s no question about that among Latino voters. But now the issue will be, will that enthusiasm be translated to Latino voters actually going to the polls on Election Day? And I think a lot of that is going to have to do with their sense of get-out-the-vote efforts but also if they feel like President Obama is reaffirming his commitment – and as he talks about this, that will be very, very important.”