Obama and immigration: High hopes, a mixed record

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Obama and immigration: High hopes, a mixed record
Demonstrators, led by the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice and the Congress of Day Laborers, participate in a rally outside the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Friday, April 17, 2015. A three-judge panel began hearing arguments whether to lift a temporary hold imposed by a federal judge in Texas on President Barack Obama's executive action seeking to shield millions of immigrants from deportation. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Demonstrators, led by the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice and the Congress of Day Laborers, participate in a rally outside the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Friday, April 17, 2015. A three-judge panel began hearing arguments whether to lift a temporary hold imposed by a federal judge in Texas on President Barack Obama's executive action seeking to shield millions of immigrants from deportation. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Nora Sandigo, left, hugs Christopher Pablo, 3, right, during a news conference, before leaving in a caravan with about 30 immigration reform supporters and activists to New Orleans, La., Thursday, April 16, 2015, in Miami. Activists are converging outside of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans Friday. A panel of three judges will weigh a request by the Department of Justice which would allow recent executive orders on immigration to proceed, which could stop the deportation of about 5 million immigrants. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
President Barack Obama meets with a group of "Dreamers" in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. The president is accusing opponents of his immigration action of failing to think about the "human consequences." The president spoke during an Oval Office meeting Wednesday with six of young immigrants who would be subject to eventual deportation under a bill passed by the House. The legislation would overturn Obama's executive actions limiting deportations for millions here illegally and giving them the ability to work. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, center, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, during a Congressional Hispanic Caucus news conference to discuss their efforts to implement President Barack Obama's immigration executive action to delay deportations of immigrant children. From left are, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., Rep. Juan C. Vargas, D-Calif., Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., Castro, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a leading advocate in the House for comprehensive immigration reform, center, makes a point during a Congressional Hispanic Caucus news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, to discuss their efforts to implement President Barack Obama's immigration executive action to delay deportations of immigrant children. From left are, Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., Rep. Juan C. Vargas, D-Calif., Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a leading advocate in the House for comprehensive immigration reform, speaks with reporters after a news conference by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on their efforts to implement President Barack Obama's immigration executive action to delay deportations of immigrant children, Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., center, joined at right by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., and other House Democrats, calls on their GOP colleagues to pass a funding bill for the Homeland Security Department that does not contain provisions aimed at blocking President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, Friday, Feb. 13, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., left, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, stand together on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, during a ceremony before the signing of the bill authorizing expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline. Though both houses of Congress are now controlled by Republicans, Boehner and McConnell are at a standstill over provisions attached to a Homeland Security spending bill aimed at blocking President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., smile and exchange congratulations after the signing of the bill authorizing expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. Though both houses of Congress are now controlled by Republicans, Boehner and McConnell are at a standstill over provisions attached to a Homeland Security spending bill aimed at blocking President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, speaks during a news conference on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill with Representative John Carter, a Republican from Texas, right, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. The DHS is operating under a continuing resolution that expires on Feb 27 with a stalemate over whether the must-pass measure should carry riders to upend President Barack Obama's immigration policies continuing to threaten passage of the legislation. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, speaks during a news conference on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. The DHS is operating under a continuing resolution that expires on Feb 27 with a stalemate over whether the must-pass measure should carry riders to upend President Barack Obama's immigration policies continuing to threaten passage of the legislation. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, right, gestures while talking to Representative John Culberson, a Republican from Texas, after a news conference on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. The DHS is operating under a continuing resolution that expires on Feb 27 with a stalemate over whether the must-pass measure should carry riders to upend President Barack Obama's immigration policies continuing to threaten passage of the legislation. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, speaks during a news conference on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill with Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Arkansas, right, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. The DHS is operating under a continuing resolution that expires on Feb 27 with a stalemate over whether the must-pass measure should carry riders to upend President Barack Obama's immigration policies continuing to threaten passage of the legislation. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, pauses while making a statement about immigration reform, Monday, June 30, 2014, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. The president said he's done waiting for House Republicans to act on immigration. He says he now plans to act on his own. Obama announced his intention Monday to take executive action. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
US President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform during a meeting with young immigrants, known as DREAMers, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, February 4, 2015. The group has received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provides relief from deportation for immigrants who arrived in the US illegally before they were 16 years old. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 10: Heather Pina-Ledezma, 6, holds the hand of her mother Madai Ledezma, 32, from Mexico, now living in Maryland, during a news conference with Democratic Senators to discuss U.S. President Barack Obama's executive order on immigration, on Capitol Hill, December 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. President Obama traveled to Nashville, Tennessee on Tuesday, where he defended his actions on immigration and again called on Congress to pass an immigration bill. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Protesters wave signs as US President Barack Obama arrives to speak about his recent executive actions on immigration on December 9, 2014 at the Casa Azafran, a community center and home to a number of immigrant-related nonprofit organizations, in Nashville, Tennessee. Obama's controversial overhaul provides three-year relief for millions of undocumented people who have lived in the country for more than five years and have children that are US citizens or legal residents. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama greets attendees after speaking about his recent executive actions on immigration on December 9, 2014 at the Casa Azafran, a community center and home to a number of immigrant-related nonprofit organizations, in Nashville, Tennessee. Obama's controversial overhaul provides three-year relief for millions of undocumented people who have lived in the country for more than five years and have children that are US citizens or legal residents. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 21: Immigrants rights activists gather to celebrate U.S. President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration policy in Washington Square Park on November 21, 2014 in New York City. Obama announced a plan on Thursday that would ease the threat of deportation for about 4.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 21: Immigration activist Astrid Silva introduces U.S. President Barack Obama to speak on his executive action on U.S. immigration policy at Del Sol High School on November 21, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Obama outlined a plan on Thursday to ease the threat of deportation for about 4.7 million undocumented immigrants. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 21: About 100 people gather to rally in support of President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration policy in Lafayette Square across from the White House November 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama announced a plan on Thursday that would ease the threat of deportation for about 4.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 21: An anti-immigration demonstrator moves among about 100 people who have gathered to rally in support of President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration policy in Lafayette Square across from the White House November 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama announced a plan on Thursday that would ease the threat of deportation for about 4.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the new steps he will be taking within his executive authority on immigration at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, November 21, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama, accompanied byVice President Joe Biden, speaks about immigration reform, Monday, June 30, 2014, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. The president said he's done waiting for House Republicans to act on immigration. He says he now plans to act on his own. Obama announced his intention Monday to take executive action. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
President Barack Obama stands with Vice President Joe Biden as he speaks about immigration in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Monday, June 30, 2014. House Speaker John Boehner told President Obama that the House will not vote on overhauling the nation’s troubled immigration system during this election year, the White House says. Officials say Obama will announce steps Monday to deal with immigration through executive actions without congressional approval. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, makes an announcement about immigration reform, Monday, June 30, 2014, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. The president said he's done waiting for House Republicans to act on immigration. He says he now plans to act on his own. Obama announced his intention Monday to take executive action. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama meets with a group of "Dreamers" in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. The president is accusing opponents of his immigration action of failing to think about the "human consequences." The president spoke during an Oval Office meeting Wednesday with six of young immigrants who would be subject to eventual deportation under a bill passed by the House. The legislation would overturn Obama's executive actions limiting deportations for millions here illegally and giving them the ability to work. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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BY JIM KUHNHENN

WASHINGTON (AP) -- There were about 30, all Mexican nationals desperate to avoid deportations that would separate them from their families. Living in Illinois, they appealed for help from their new U.S. senator, Barack Obama.

He turned them down.

It was one of the first times Obama could have used the power of his office to help defer the removal of immigrants who were in the United States illegally. Eight years later, with his powers magnified as president, such a decision is upon him again, this time with the status of millions of immigrants at stake.

That episode in 2006 represents just one early marker in Obama's complicated history with the politics of immigration. The son of a Kenyan immigrant, Obama has been embraced and scorned by immigrant advocates who have viewed him as both a champion and an obstacle to their cause.

Now, perhaps paradoxically, in their anger over his delay of executive actions that potentially could give work permits to millions of immigrants living illegally in this country, these advocacy groups also hold out hope that when Obama does act, he will be aggressive and leave a mark for posterity.

"Some of the hard feelings could be forgotten at the end of the day if he acts boldly," said Janet Murguia, the president of the National Council of La Raza, a leading Latino advocacy group.

Obama's record on immigration, however, is one of caution and deliberation punctuated by moments of determination amid some broken promises. With the president delaying executive action until after the November congressional elections, some Democrats worry that expectations have been raised beyond what he can deliver.

"If they weren't sky high before, they are now," said Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "I'm not convinced they will meet the expectations of the Hispanic community."

White House officials say the delay will not affect the scope of what Obama intends to do. They play down suggestions he is looking to build his legacy with the decision.

"The goal is going to be to do as meaningful a package of reforms as is available to the president through his executive authority," White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri said. "I don't think that is going to manifestly change from September to when we do this later this year."

The 2006 incident with the immigrants seeking to avoid deportation illustrates Obama's past reluctance to act unilaterally and calls attention to the on-and-off relationship he has had with leaders in the Latino community.

As Obama recalls in his book "The Audacity of Hope," a group of Chicago community advocates visited his office seeking legislation to legalize the status of that small group of Mexican immigrants. Obama didn't want to provide special dispensation to a select group and sent an aide to decline the request, leading to a confrontation.

That year, Obama also angered Latino leaders when he voted to erect a 700-mile double fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. The measure passed the Senate 80-19, over the objections of many Latino groups who saw it as an enforcement-only alternative to a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

Over time, Obama would build a varied immigration record:

-He backed compromise legislation in 2007 from Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., to overhaul immigration laws. Whether his support for a labor-backed change to the legislation contributed to the bill's demise remains a point of debate.

-During the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign, Obama took the side of pro-immigrant forces in supporting driver's licenses for immigrants living illegally in the United States. That stand distinguished him from Hillary Rodham Clinton, who opposed them.

-Obama galvanized Latino voters with promises to take up an immigration overhaul during his presidency's first year. But once in office, he backed off to deal with the recession and launch a health care overhaul.

-Under his watch, deportation numbers began to rise. Immigration groups protested; Obama argued he could not act unilaterally to reduce deportations.

-In 2012, as he campaigned for re-election, his administration announced a plan to defer deportation for certain immigrants who entered the country illegally as children. Since then, the program has deferred deportation and provided work permits for nearly 600,000 immigrants.

-He backed bipartisan comprehensive immigration legislation passed in the Senate in 2013 and held out hope the Republican-controlled House would follow. This past June, Obama was finally convinced the House would not vote, and he promised to act on his own shortly after summer's end.

-This month, Obama decided to wait until after the elections, saying he worried his actions would be undermined by campaign politics and damage any prospects of future legislation.

For Obama's executive actions to be embraced by Latino and immigrant advocates, Murguia said, the number of people helped must far surpass the number of deportations under his administration - 2 million-plus, already.

"If he does 3 million or less, then years from now it could be said he deported as many people as he protected," Murguia said.

White House officials caution that without a change in the law, Obama's actions are limited.

"Whatever we do is going to be imperfect," Palmieri said, "and is not going to be as big as we need."

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