Another Friday afternoon statement from the White House means another bit of bad news for immigration reform advocates. This time, President Barack Obama met with correspondents from Hispanic media outlets and said he expects Congress to deal with immigration early next year.
The new statement pushes Obama farther away from his commitment to deal with the issue during his first year in office — a promise he made to Latino voters he badly needed to carry some swing states in the 2008 election.
On Friday, Obama met with a group of 10 reporters including representatives of wire services Notimex (Mexico), Reuters and EFE, and from Los Angeles newspaper La Opinión. Although he said he didn’t know if the bill would get enough votes, he said he expects Congress to deal with immigration reform by “early next year.”
For this, Obama said a bill should be drafted by the end of 2009.
“Now, will we be able to mobilize the votes to pass something? That I can’t predict,” he said, according to Notimex.
According to Reuters, Obama said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will meet with lawmakers regularly to work through the more controversial measures, like legalization for an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants and how to prevent illegal immigration in the future.
“We have convened a meeting of all the relevant stakeholders, and Secretary Napolitano is working with the group to start creating the framework for a comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama was quoted by Reuters.
The wire service reported Obama even joked about the so-called “birthers,” a fringe group who accuse the president of being unable to prove he was born in U.S. and who claim his actual birthplace is Mombasa, Kenya, making him ineligible to be president.
Asked if an immigration bill would have enough votes to pass Congress, Obama said he did not know. He also noted as a further complication that next year is an election year.
Obama joked that his opponents had another reason to block his immigration reform effort: “There are many members of the Republican Party who think now that I am illegal immigrant,” he said.
After hearing about this latest postponement, those in the pro-immigration camp –including reform activists, Hispanic advocates and progressive Democrats in general– are probably not in the mood for jokes.
“The deadlines for immigration reform seem to get farther and farther away,” wrote La Opinión reporter Antonieta Cádiz, “especially now, after (the president) said openly … he expected the bill to be introduced next year in Congress.”
“First there was talk of getting a draft ready by the summer recess; then the chairman of the (Senate) Immigration sub-committee, Charles Schumer, mentioned Labor Day as a deadline to have a proposal ready.
“A few days ago, the lawmaker told La Opinión that by that deadline he would only have a ‘broad draft, with no legislative language.’ And now the president stated that in the fall he will see ‘what progress has been made’ (…)”
Cádiz reported that Obama told the reporters that there are many issues on his agenda and that health care reform –which will probably take “a couple of months”– will be his main focus after August, and he also has to deal with reforming the financial system.
Obama added he can’t get immigration reform passed on his own. “It’s important that people realize that things don’t happen because the President snaps his fingers. I can’t do all this by myself,” he said. He asked that grassroots groups continue to organize and mobilize for reform and that members of Congress face the political risks involved.
When the La Opinión reporter pressed him about his continuation of President George W. Bush’s immigration enforcement policies, Obama said his administration is “less concerned with making criminals out of people who are simply looking for a job.” He defended the decision to extend the 287 (g) program which allows immigration enforcement by local authorities, saying that there is a “new set of priorities and rules” for it.