Obama Uses Nashville Backdrop to Make Appeal on Immigration

President Barack Obama tried today in Nashville, Tennessee, to build support for his executive actions on immigration in a Southern city where the Hispanic population has doubled in the past decade.

He told his audience that the actions he announced last month may be temporary because the next president “could do something extremely damaging” and reverse his changes.

“I do recognize there are controversies around immigration,” he said. “We have had these concerns since the Irish, Italians and Poles were coming to Boston and New York.”

Nashville is Obama’s latest stop on his campaign to rouse both political backing for, and participation in, his plan to allow as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. He was greeted by protesters holding signs opposing the immigration changes, across the street from the building where he delivered his remarks.

About 40,000 of the 130,000 undocumented immigrants estimated to have lived in Tennessee in 2012 would be eligible to stay under Obama’s plan, according to a Pew Research Center report. That puts Tennessee in the top half of states affected by the changes, which include deferring for three years deportation of people who came to the U.S. as children, and for parents of children who are citizens or legal permanent residents.

Partisan Criticism

Obama said he took action, announced last month in Las Vegas, because Congress failed to pass immigration legislation. He said he’ll drop his directives on deportations if lawmakers pass the legislation and send it to the White House.

“This isn’t amnesty or legalization or even a path to citizenship,” Obama said. “That can only be done by Congress. What it does is create a system of accountability.”

With Obama blaming Republican House members for inaction and his decision to act on his own, Obama arrived in Tennessee to criticism from some of the state’s congressional delegation.

“More than 200,000 Tennesseans remain out of work, but rather than prioritize their plight, the president is putting the interests of those who have broken our laws ahead of them,” Representative Diane Black, a Tennessee Republican, said today in an e-mailed statement. “Why should unemployed Tennesseans have to compete with illegal immigrants for jobs? And why should those who break our laws to come here be rewarded while so many wait to come here legally?”

Representative John Duncan last month said he’d be willing to accept a government shutdown to block Obama’s immigration action, which he called amnesty, Nashville Public Radio reported.

Funding Bill

The government could shut down if a funding bill isn’t approved this week. Last week, House Speaker John Boehner rejected Tea Party-backed Republicans’ insistence on using the spending measure to block Obama’s immigration orders. Instead, on Dec. 4 Boehner let members vent with a symbolic vote disapproving of Obama’s immigration orders. Some Republicans who wanted to force a confrontation on immigration this month still oppose the overall measure.

Obama spoke in Nashville at Casa Azafran, a collective of non-profit organizations including the American Muslim Advisory Council and Conexion Americas, which works with Latino families.

Population Change

Yesterday, Valerie Jarrett, a White House senior adviser, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, met with mayors in New York to discuss immigration.

“Mayors stand as a powerful voice for progress” on immigration, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said on Twitter yesterday.

Ten percent of Nashville’s population in the 2010 U.S. Census was Hispanic or Latino, more than double the 4.6 percent in the state of Tennessee. Ten years earlier, 4.7 percent of Nashville residents were Hispanic or Latino. Immigrants from Latin America are the primary beneficiaries of Obama’s actions. Twelve percent of Nashville residents were foreign born, according to the Census Bureau.

Nashville’s immigrant population has grown in the years after the 2009 defeat by local voters of an English-only initiative.

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