What: President Barack Obama will meet Congressional leaders from both parties to discuss the way forward in fixing the U.S. immigration system. The White House has insisted on tamping down expectations, saying this is just the beginning of the conversation. Pro-immigration advocates, on the contrary, are anxious for Congressional action to start. Anti-immigration activists seem to be waiting to hear what exactly the Democrats’ plan will include — but they reject any kind of legalization proposal.
When & Where: After two postponements attributed to the president’s busy schedule, the meeting will be held today at the White House.
Who: While White House officials had first said the meeting would involve not only lawmakers but also activists and others involved in the immigration debate, today’s conversation will only include members of the Senate and the House who are part of relevant committees.
No official list of attendees has been announced. But Los Angeles newspaper La Opinión, quoting unnamed sources, published this list: Democratic Sens. Robert Menéndez (N.J.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Patrick Leahy (Vt.); Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Mel Martínez (Fla.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.); Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Xavier Becerra, Howard Berman (all Calif.), Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.), Nydia Velázquez and Anthony Weiner (both N.Y.); Republican Reps. Lamar Smith (Texas), Adam Putnam and Lincoln Díaz-Balart (both Fla.)
One key player from the last Congressional immigratio reform debate will be absent: the ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass.), who’s now focused solely on health-care reform.
How: Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.), who is leading the charge for the Democrats, yesterday announced what the priorities will be in their initial proposal. According to the Miami Herald, these include:
-Acknowledging that illegal immigration is wrong and making a dramatic reduction in future illegal immigration a priority.
-Bolstering infrastructure, technology and personnel along the U.S. border within a year of enactment.
-Using a biometric-based employer verification system to “significantly diminish the job magnet that attracts illegal aliens to the United States.”
-Registering all illegal aliens inside the country upon enactment of the new law and having them “submit to a rigorous process of converting to legal status and earning a path to citizenship – or face imminent deportment.”
-Making reunification of families “a cornerstone value of our immigration system.”
-Encouraging immigration of the “world’s best and brightest individuals” to the United States while discouraging businesses from using immigration laws to “obtain temporary and less-expensive foreign labor to replace capable American workers.”
-Changing the current flow of unskilled illegal workers into a more manageable flow of legal ones who can be absorbed by the economy.
Why: President Obama said during the campaign that he would tackle immigration reform during his first year in office. In the last week before the election he asked Latino voters to come out in droves for him. They did, and were credited with putting him over the top in several key states.
Since he took office, Obama has continued to promise action on the issue but not much has happened, which has made advocates impatient.
Democrats know they run a big risk if they disappoint Latino voters, while Republicans want a chance to repair their relationship with them, after the previous round of national debate on immigration featured a lot of demeaning talk about Latino immigrants by members of the GOP.
Some Republicans, it appears, see an opening in Obama’s cautious approach. On Wednesday, Sen. Cornyn called on the president to present a comprehensive immigration plan this year, according to Roll Call.
“What we need is not another photo op at the White House,” Cornyn said. “What we need now is a plan from the president.”