LOS ANGELES -- Janet Murguía, president of the country's largest Latino advocacy group, has a formal warning for Republicans: Help the child refugees at the border and act on immigration reform, or say goodbye to the idea of winning the White House.
Murguía, the head of the National Council of La Raza, the largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, delivered her remarks Monday afternoon at the Los Angeles Convention Center during day three of the NCLR's annual conference. On the subject of the current border crisis, Murguía said she was "sickened" by the hostile reaction of many Americans to the child refugees and blamed House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for Congress' inability to pass immigration reform.
More than 57,000 children escaping poverty and violence in Central America have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border since October, overwhelming local resources. Many of the children, upon arrival, are turning themselves in to authorities and attempting to seek asylum.
In late June, overcrowding at the Texas-Mexico border prompted the Department of Homeland Security to transfer many of the children to California facilities, where they were blocked by anti-immigration protesters in Murrieta.
"The plight of these child refugees has sadly brought out the worst in a lot of people," Murguía told an audience of hundreds on Monday. "I was sickened by the sight of angry protesters this month in Murrieta, California, blocking busloads of refugee children and shouting 'Go back to where you come from!' and 'No illegals!' ... When they cloak their hatred in patriotism, shouting 'USA! USA!' it made me angry."
"In fact, I was outraged," Murguía continued. "There is nothing more un-American than denying compassion and decency towards a group of young children in need. There is nothing more un-American than deliberately frightening an already traumatized group of kids -- some of them were still in diapers. There's nothing more un-American than a mob taking the law into their own hands and preventing authorities from doing their job processing these refugees. What we saw in Murrieta is not patriotism. It is ugly, divisive and yet another low in a debate that I thought could not get much lower."
Murguía said that politicians like Murrieta Mayor Alan Long, who urged his constituents to complain to elected officials about the influx of children, and Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), who said the children were carrying ebola and other deadly diseases, were the most "shameful."
She also cited Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and his recent decision to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the border, although Perry has said the soldiers will be there not to challenge the children, but to stop criminals from taking advantage of the situation and crossing illegally.
"Soldiers with guns confronting children seeking refuge," Murguía said. "What is wrong with these people? How can they talk about children like this? Who treats children this way? Every one of the elected officials I just quoted consider themselves people of faith, but there is nothing godly in their words. It is disgraceful."
This border crisis -- part of what Murguía called an "international humanitarian emergency," echoing Pope Francis' recent words -- will define how the rest of the world perceives the United States, she said.
"We will not let the faces of hate define America to the rest of the world on how we address this emergency," Murguía said. "We will uphold and we will live our values when it comes to these children. That is our promise."
Murguía recalled how in March, during remarks at an awards dinner, she called President Barack Obama "the deporter-in-chief" because he had not used his executive power to give relief to families being torn apart by his administration's record-high number of deportations. Murguía said she now had some choice words for Boehner, accusing the speaker of a "dereliction of duty" on the issue of immigration reform.
"The reason immigration reform is not going to happen this year is because of Republican extremists in the House of Representatives and the willful neglect of Speaker John Boehner," said Murguía, noting that Boehner has blocked every immigration bill to come through Congress and has been unwilling to compromise while blaming Obama for the lack of progress.
Murguía then called the crowd to action, asking Latinos to hold their elected officials accountable in November's midterm elections and in the 2016 presidential contest. She said that while Republicans still had time to correct their course, the country's Latinos will be watching to see how they address the child refugee crisis and immigration reform.
"I promise you this," Murguía said to a cheering crowd. "The road to the White House runs right through the Hispanic community, and you will not see a Republican become president without it."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post stated that Murguía referred to Obama as "the deporter in chief" in May 2014. In fact, Murguía's comment was made in March.
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