Obama: ‘Keep on praying’ for immigration reform

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Today’s National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast was converted into a crass political rally by President Barack Obama, who called on the clerics to mobilize their flocks for congressional passage of national amnesty for illegal immigrants, even  though it could spur “raw feelings … and fear” of Hispanics according to the president.

“I’m asking you to keep on preaching… keep on activating, getting involved, mobilized,” until Congress passes a “comprehensive immigration reform” law, he told the assembled clerics. “I’ll keep pushing and working with Congress, but the only way we will get this done is by building a widespread movement… That’s why we all need to keep on praying.”

Obama did bolster his political pitch with a biblical passage. The verse, from the Old Testament’s book of Deuteronomy, calls on believers to “love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

“That verse is a call to show empathy for our brothers and sisters…. and it is especially important that we try to do that when it comes to immigration,” he said.

The president’s barely-concealed 2012 campaign is already focused on Hispanic voters. Their numbers are growing, but their support for Democrats is declining amid a stalled economy.

To mobilize wavering Hispanics displeased by his economic record, Obama has repeatedly suggested that opposition to immigration – whether of high-skilled or low-skilled workers, whether to legal or illegal immigrants – is caused by irrational emotions. “This is a subject that can expose raw feelings and feeds our fear of change, that those coming to America are somehow different from us,” he told the clerics as he simultaneously argued that Hispanic immigrants are similar to and different from Americans.

But Obama has an uphill climb. Voters – including Hispanic voters – are focused on the economy, partly because unemployment in 2010 among African-American, Hispanic and white workers without high school diplomas was 22.5, 13.2 and 13.9 percent, respectively.

GOP officials and activists are increasingly touting their outreach and support in the Hispanic communities, partly because GOP control of the House effectively ends any worry that such outreach could snowball into an amnesty bill.

“Our party has had great success in the Latino and Hispanic communities … [but] we don’t do a good job job in promoting our success,” Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in a May 12 interview on MSNBC. “I’m going to try to remedy this, and I’m going to be bragging about this.”