The president of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute criticized U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Thursday for supporting a bill that calls for the construction of a 700-mile wall along the border of the United States and Mexico.
Dr. Juan Andrade Jr. called the proposed wall offensive and "an insult to those of us of Mexican ancestry." He also said Obama owes immigrants, especially Mexicans, an apology.
"Obama owes the 1.7 million immigrants in the state of Illinois ... and the 1.3 million Mexicans in Illinois in particular an explanation for his vote," Andrade said during a news conference.
"I have supported and will continue to support comprehensive immigration reform that will provide a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country," Obama replied in a statement Thursday. "But I disagree with those who think that we can do this without measures that allow us to control our borders."
Andrade added that investing money in Mexico's infrastructure and economy instead of erecting a wall would reduce immigration by improving conditions in Mexico, thus eliminating the need for people to seek survival in the United States.
"We would think the [senator's] leadership and vision ... would be better served if he sought to invest ... in Latin America to make immigration less necessary," Andrade said.
He also cautioned Obama about the consequences his votes will have on his presidential aspirations. As Democrats attempt to win back the White House in 2008, Andrade said Obama will undoubtedly be at the forefront of that campaign and will have "a lot of explaining to do to the immigrant communities," especially those in California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois.
According to Obama's spokesman Julian Green, the senator spoke with Andrade Wednesday about his concerns. Obama also is scheduled to meet with community leaders on Saturday, Green said.
Saturday's meeting will include representatives from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Juan Salgado, president of the coalition, acknowledged an urgency for comprehensive immigration reform that would include a path to legalization.
"We can't afford to wait any longer," he said.