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In Las Vegas, Obama Sells His Immigration Plan


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President Obama's executive action on immigration has certainly been controversial. Supporters may be thrilled, but many immigration activists wish it went further and many opponents say it's an executive overreach of historic proportions, and so the president has begun to try and sell it to the American public. NPR's Tamara Keith reports from Las Vegas, Nevada.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: This was President Obama's second visit to Del Sol High School in two years and there was a certain symmetry in his return. It was in the very same gymnasium almost two years ago that he called for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul. The Senate ultimately did pass a bipartisan immigration bill, but House Republicans balked and now Obama is back and going it alone on an executive action that could shield some four million people in the country illegally from deportation.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And during that time, families have been separated and during that time, businesses have been harmed and we can't afford it anymore. Las Vegas, I have come back to Del Sol to tell you I'm not giving up. I will never give up.


OBAMA: I will never give up.

KEITH: The student body at Del Sol High School is heavily Latino and many of the students sitting in the bleachers could be personally affected by the executive action.


OBAMA: This action doesn't grant citizenship or the right to stay permanently, or receive the same benefits that citizens receive. Only Congress can do that. All we're saying is we're not going to deport you and separate you from your kids.

KEITH: At one point during the speech a young man stood up and started yelling to the president that his action didn't go far enough. The crowd shouted him down.


KEITH: But Obama responded, more or less agreeing. Astrid Silva is what's known as a dreamer. She was brought to the country illegally when she was little and has been a vocal advocate for changing the immigration system. Yesterday she stood on stage and triumphantly introduced the president, but afterwards she said this isn't the end of the story.

ASTRID SILVA: Until we have that law signed by the president, families are going to continue being separated, people are going to continue being deported and we can't continue that. We have to make sure that our system is working and is fair to everybody.

KEITH: For Obama, the choice of coming here likely isn't purely about symmetry. Nevada is a state he won both in 2008 and 2012 in large part because of strong support from Hispanic voters.

DAVID DAMORE: It's a case study in sort of how this country's changing demography is changing the geography of the political competition.

KEITH: David Damore is a political scientist at UNLV and also a senior analyst for the polling firm Latino Decisions. Damore says going into the midterm elections Hispanics were turned off by the inaction on immigration. He says for Latino voters, immigration policy isn't abstract.

DAMORE: 64 percent of Latino voters had a family member, a friend or a coworker who was unauthorized - so this is their communities. This affects them, this affects their parents, their grandparents.

KEITH: Recent polls show the majority of Americans support the policies and the president's executive actions. They don't support him going around Congress. Protesters showed up outside the high school to make their voices heard. Obama's motorcade passed by as it drove up to the high school. Back in Washington, House Speaker John Boehner said he thinks the president is purposely sabotaging comprehensive immigration legislation by taking executive action.


HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: We will not stand idle as the president undermines the rule of law in our country and places lives at risk. We'll listen to the American people, we'll work with our members and we will work to protect the Constitution of United States.

KEITH: But it's not clear how anything Congressional Republicans do will be able to stop the president's action.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.