President Barack Obama, comparing the push for immigration reform to the civil rights struggle, told a Hispanic radio personality that overhauling immigration will be harder to do if Hispanics don't vote Nov. 2.
In the taped interview, aired Monday on the syndicated radio program "Piolin por la Manana" ("Piolin in the Morning"), Obama said Latino voters should press Republican candidates to publicly state whether they support immigration reform. "And if they don't publicly commit, then you've gotta vote against them," Obama said.
"Believe me, we will," replied the show's host, Eddie "Piolin" Sotelo, whose nickname means "Tweety Bird."
The interview with Sotelo, taped last Friday and conducted in English, focused largely on immigration. Sotelo asked Obama how he could ask his listeners for their vote, when they think he hasn't worked as hard to pass comprehensive immigration reform as he did health care reform.
"If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, 'We're gonna punish our enemies and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us,' if they don't see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it's gonna be harder," Obama said.
The president also said it "makes no sense" for those impatient for immigration reform to stop participating in "the system." Instead, they should take a cue from African Americans' struggle for civil rights, he said.
"We worked for decades on civil rights. Civil rights didn't come after one year. It didn't come after two years. People had to march. They had to have their heads beaten. They had fire hoses put on them. Even after Dr. (Martin Luther) King gave his 'I Have a Dream' speech, it still took years before African Americans achieved full citizenship in this country," Obama said.
Doug Heye, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, criticized Obama's call to Latino voters to "punish our enemies."
"Suggesting that Latinos punish enemies _ when unemployment for Latinos stands more than a full point higher than when the stimulus passed _ is a message of desperation, rather than one from a position of strength," Heye said.
In 2008, about 9.7 million Latinos voted, about 84 percent of those registered, according to Census data.
Obama interview on Piolin por la Manana: http://bit.ly/ataPwO