DENVER – Latino leaders assailed Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday for comments he made suggesting Latinos “don’t care” about a pathway to citizenship.
The newly re-elected governor – who received a boost from the Latino voting bloc during his tough election bid – made the comments to The Wall Street Journal in a story that appeared Wednesday.
“What’s amazing to me is, a lot of young Latinos, the vast majority don’t care about a pathway to citizenship,” Hickenlooper told the Journal. “They want to be able to get on an airplane and get down to Mexico City and visit their grandparents. And they want to get a job and be able to get paid over the table.”
At a news conference Friday in Denver at the Justice for All Center, Latino leaders expressed disappointment, suggesting that the governor undermined the values of the immigrant community.
“We are disappointed that immediately following his narrow re-election in which our community voted overwhelmingly for Governor Hickenlooper, his first comments regarding Latino issues demonstrate that he is out of touch with our community’s priorities and values,” said Julie Gonzales, with the Colorado Latino Forum.
“The Colorado Latino Forum has long underscored that access to a path to citizenship is a key value that must be included in any meaningful future comprehensive immigration reform package that Congress debates,” Gonzales said.
The Latino leaders invited Hickenlooper to address members and leadership of the Colorado Latino Forum at its statewide summit scheduled for Jan. 10 in Denver.
When asked by The Durango Herald shortly after the news conference, Hickenlooper said he is open to attending the forum and that he is working with Latino leaders after his comments.
“The point I was trying to make was that the number of people who can’t get a job, can’t get on an airplane – don’t have many of the freedoms that we take for granted in this country, that’s a large number,” Hickenlooper said.
“It’s not that they wouldn’t get a pathway to citizenship, but what I said was if you put it aside and didn’t make that a part of the immediate solution, quite possibly you’d get to a pathway to citizenship faster,” he said.
His controversial comments were reported just a day before President Barack Obama announced an executive order that aims to spare nearly 5 million people in the U.S. illegally from deportation and refocus enforcement efforts on “felons, not families.”
Hickenlooper pointed out Congress has failed to act, largely because of the controversial pathway to citizenship component criticized by many Republicans.
“This country would never allow a two-tiered system of citizens, it’s just not in our natural character,” Hickenlooper said. “So, if we put that decision on citizenship aside for a few years, ... then that allows us to get to an integrated system where people can come out of the shadows.”
Latino leaders acknowledged Congress’ failure to act, but said a path to citizenship must remain a part of the focus.
“As we all know, Republicans failed the American people by refusing to vote on meaningful immigration reform,” said Carla Castedo, state director for Mi Familia Vota. “The GOP, instead, decided to be a party of inaction and insults.”
But U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, who attacked Obama for his unilateral action, blamed Democrats for not acting sooner. He noted that Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress during Obama’s first two years in office. Obama acted on health-care reform instead of immigration during that time.
“When Democrats controlled both the House and Senate, the president took no action on immigration,” Tipton said in a statement. “He even admitted time and again that he did not have the authority to act unilaterally. Now, he’s rushing to implement over-reaching executive orders to politicize the issue rather than fix the problems with the system.”