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Politics and Government

A Frustrating Year For Immigration Activists


At the start of this year, there was a widespread expectation among Latinos that 2013 would bring with it a new immigration law signed by President Obama. It didn't happen.

NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea this week visited with immigration activists in North Carolina, and found frustration as the year comes to a close.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: In January, I was in a nondescript meeting room on the outskirts of Charlotte. Several dozen immigration activists had gathered. Some were headed to Washington for President Obama's Inauguration; among them, 20-year-old Carlos Lopez, who said then it was time for the Congress and the president to act.


CARLOS LOPEZ: Obama promised immigration reform four years ago and didn't do anything. And now, he's said it again. He's promised it, you know. And that's what I came here - to push him and make sure he knows that we're there. And we're going to be pushing till it comes through, you know.

GONYEA: Again, that was January. Now, it's 11 months later. I'm back in the same room, talking about the same issue with some of the same people who where were here that day in January, including Hector Vaca of the group Action NC. He recalls the mood back then.

HECTOR VACA: Everybody was super-excited. Then what they heard is that it was going to happen this year. That's what they kept hearing - it was going to happen. And now, with Boehner's remarks from two weeks ago - or three weeks ago, some people have kind of lost heart, a little bit.

GONYEA: He's referring to Speaker of the House John Boehner, who has quashed hope that the Republican majority in the U.S. House would deal with immigration in any kind of comprehensive way anytime soon. That means that a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate goes nowhere for the foreseeable future.

There were 15 people at the meeting this week in Charlotte.

LUIS MAESTRE: Hello. My name is Luis Maestre. I'm from Colombia.

FELIPE BRAVO: ...Me nombre es Felipe Bravo y yo vengo de Guatemala...

SYLVIA SANCHEZ: Buenas noches. Soy Sylvia Sanchez, soy Mexicana...

OLGA RIVERAS: Buenas noches. Mi nombre is Olga Riveras...

GONYEA: Some are U.S. citizens, but most are undocumented. Hector Vaca led the discussion. He encouraged talk about other issues of concern to the local immigrant community, and there was some of that. But most of the focus was on immigration. And there was talk of why they're all still waiting on Washington. Most blamed Republicans, who they say failed to get the message of last year's election, when the fast-growing Latino vote again went big for Democrats and President Obama.

Here's 34-year-old Luis Maestre.

MAESTRE: (Spanish spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He said the Republican representatives are not allowing President Obama to do his job; that they are kind of blocking everything that he tries to do.

GONYEA: But Javier Opegui also blames the White House for not trying hard enough.

JAVIER OPEGUI: I think it's a lack of leadership from the president - Obama - because when he worked for the health care, he put everything he has to pass the health care.

GONYEA: And, he says, there's been no such effort on immigration. Still, husband and wife Zhenia Martinez and Manuel Betancur, who own and operate a bakery in Charlotte, stress that there is time, and that the fight continues.

ZHENIA MARTINEZ: It's not a one-year battle that you have to fight. You have to keep going until you can win the war, to get an immigration reform.

MANUEL BETANCUR: Like my wife say, you know, next year is going to be another fight. But sooner or later, it's going to happen.

GONYEA: You're still optimistic?

BETANCUR: Oh, of course. Yeah. We are going to do it, you know. Welcome to America.


GONYEA: Immigration activists frustrated, but determined, this week in Charlotte, N.C.

Don Gonyea, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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