Ambivalence After White House Immigration Reform Meeting Featuring Obama and Napolitano

Obama keeps revving the immigration reform engine, advocates want to take it for a spin already. (Photo: The White House)

Obama keeps revving the immigration reform engine, advocates want to take it for a spin already. (Photo: The White House)

The second White House meeting on immigration reform under President Barack Obama went well. Or did it? It depends on whom you ask.

Much like the overall situation since Obama took office, the meeting left room for conflicting interpretations: some came out thinking the president is committed to passing immigration reform despite his overloaded agenda, others emerged with a sense that Obama and Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano need to start backing up their promises with action.

A glass half-full example: Politico‘s headline, “Obama addresses immigration reform,” when all the president did was show up at the meeting to give a brief pep talk.

Glass half-empty: The Wall Street Journal’s take, “Some Hear More PR, Less Policy at White House Immigration Meeting.”

The meeting did give advocates a chance to express some of their frustration with the administration’s approach.

“President Obama and Secretary Napolitano remain committed to comprehensive immigration reform, know that enforcement of our out-dated laws alone is no solution, and understood when we told them that pro-reform constituencies are growing impatient,” said a statement from the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, Ali Noorani, who was in the meeting.

“…Obama reaffirmed his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform in this Congress. Secretary Napolitano also made it clear that she received our message that she has to communicate more effectively in favor of reform,” said a statement from America’s Voice executive director Frank Sharry.

“But as always, the proof will be in the pudding. What we are looking for going forward is public advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform from Secretary Napolitano, a concrete proposal presented in Congress early this fall, and continued promotion of this urgent issue by the President.”

Participants in the meeting –which included business leaders and law enforcement representatives– were divided into small groups to discuss specific issues.

Afterwards, when Napolitano was getting ready to answer questions, according to The Wall Street Journal, “Obama walked into the room — surprise, surprise — and gave a pep talk. With that, the meeting ended, letting Napolitano off the hook. Some advocates had been looking for a chance to vent their dissatisfaction with the administration’s enforcement approach, part of Napolitano’s responsibilities.”

Noorani of the National Immigration Forum pointed in his statement to the one bit of news that could be of significance: Obama made his most forceful –though not very forceful– statement yet regarding the 287(g) program.

“The president said specifically that when it comes to the local police charged with enforcing federal immigration law under 287(g) agreements that he wants these local law enforcement agencies held accountable.

“We continue to oppose expanding 287(g) agreements and other expansions of state and local involvement in federal enforcement issues, but we intend to make sure the president follows through on holding these police forces accountable.

“For example, it will be hard to feel that this administration is serious about taking a new approach to enforcement when bad actors like Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona continue to conduct sweeps through Latino neighborhoods under the authority of 287(g).”

Such a statement follows a familiar pattern with Obama and immigration: the president talks about what he wants done, but he does not say what he will do to get it done.

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