By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
President Barack Obama appears to have settled some nagging doubts among his supporters in the pro-immigration ranks.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who met with Obama at the White House Wednesday reported the president renewed his promise to tackle immigration reform and outlined some of the steps he intends to take to address the issue.
“The president said more than any of us expected him to say,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill), according to the Dallas Morning News. “He was clear, eloquent and determined in letting us know that we’re all together on the route to comprehensive immigration reform.”
Gutierrez has been travelling the country holding rallies with local churches and immigrant organizations to document the need for immigration reform. He said that the Hispanic legislators –23 Democrats and one independent– “made it absolutely clear that this is a civil rights issue of our community.”
This was the first time President Obama held an official meeting on immigration reform since taking office in January.
According to the Morning News, Obama announced he will introduce his immigration proposal “in a similar way that he has rolled out other major policy initiatives. There will be a public forum on immigration, possibly within the next two months,” where his ideas will be unveiled.
(One Massachusetts pro-immigrant group said in a press release that the president “announced he will make a public statement in May that will lay out his plans for just and humane reform.”)
[ UPDATE: Despite his earlier remarks, Rep. Gutierrez later delivered a “mixed review” of the meeting, according to The Washington Post. “I think we have to be very careful not to oversell what was accomplished,” he said. ]
[ Later Wednesday, in a town hall meeting in Southern California, President Obama spoke at length on immigration reform, repeating the same generic proposals he has outlined in the past. He did not announce a timeline for moving on immigration reform. ]
[Here’s what he said, in a video we found at Vivir Latino:]
The White House Blog said the President “had a productive meeting” with the members of Congress. “The President discussed how the administration will work with the CHC to address immigration concerns in both the short and long term,” the blog said.
“I think the collective sense at the end was, this is a good step,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D.-Ariz.) said after the one-hour meeting, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The WSJ‘s Cam Simpson added that “Hispanic lawmakers and the president discussed specific timelines for trying to win passage of legislation, but neither side was speaking publicly about dates for action following their meeting.”
The interest of the White House in limiting attention to the controversial issue is most likely a sign of how difficult it will be for Obama to muster the support needed to win passage of substantial change, especially as he spends his political capital trying to fix the economy and on reforming health care.
Grijalva said Obama also promised to use his executive authority to make some substantive immigration changes soon, without waiting for passage of legislation.
Since before Obama took office, pro-immigrant advocates and Latino politicians have asked that he issue executive orders to stop work-site raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and put a halt to deportations while an immigration bill is negotiated and passed in Congress.
Until now Obama had not given any clear public signals on the matter –except for an interview on Spanish-language radio–, leaving many to wonder whether he actually planned to follow through on his campaign promise to tackle immigration reform in his first year in office.
Janet Murguía, the head of the National Council of La Raza, one of the leading pro-immigration reform groups, released a statement praising the Hispanic legislators and reminding the president of the issue’s importance.
“The leadership on immigration reform from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus should be applauded, and we appreciate the President’s continued commitment to this issue,” Murguía said. “We are dedicated to working with the administration and leaders in the House and Senate from both sides of the aisle to make the President’s campaign promise of immigration reform a reality this year.”
The Latino community has high expectations for our leaders on this issue. It is critical to resolve the most important civil rights issue of our time.
New York Immigration Coalition Executive Director Chung-Wha Hong said her group was “encouraged” after the meeting.
“At this time of economic crisis, the last thing our nation needs is to squander more resources and continue to consign immigrants to the shadows,” Hong said in a statement. “We need practical solutions that will leverage the contributions of all people to help our economy recover, provide a level playing field for all workers, and live up to our values as a nation.”
“It’s an exciting day,” said Simon Rosenberg, of the progressive group NDN, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “The White House is going to realize that passing comprehensive immigration reform is one of the easier things (President Obama) can do this year.”