As has happened several times since he took office, President Barack Obama once again seemed to at least partially mollify immigration reform advocates with a statement on his “strong commitment” to a legislative overhaul. Once again, Obama did not give them much else.
On Thursday, the president met pro-reform organizers and, separately, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.), who are working on an immigration reform bill. The apparent attempt to revive an issue many are declaring dead came nine days before tens of thousands of people are announced to march on Washington D.C. to protest Obama’s “enforcement-mostly” policies and lack of action on an overhaul.
(Graham released a statement after the meeting in which he warned that “immigration reform could come to a halt for the year” if Obama pushes health care through the Senate using a reconciliation measure.)
The meeting with 13 representatives of pro-immigrant groups in the Roosevelt Room lasted one hour and 15 minutes, according to one participant. Judging from some of the advocates’ statements afterward, Obama could have managed to preempt the more incendiary mood that was building up for the march.
“Based on our conversation, we are optimistic and expecting aggressive and urgent action from the White House on comprehensive immigration reform before March 21st,” said Ali Noorani, of the National Immigration Forum, in a statement.
“We leave the meeting today feeling hopeful,” Clarissa Martinez de Castro of the National Council of La Raza told Reuters. “The president took an hour of his time to have a conversation, not to give a speech and that is significant.”
Still, the pro-reform camp asked Obama for concrete gestures, namely the introduction of the Schumer-Graham bill in the Senate.
“He promised to commit to comprehensive immigration reform. He said we got to get more Republicans active, that the Democrats are there but the majority of the Republicans aren’t,” Joshua Hoyt, of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), told America’s Voice in a video interview. “We asked that he show that that was true by actually working to get the bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate, he said he would do that.
“We’ll see what happens.”
According to ICIRR’s post on the meeting, Obama also “agreed to focus deportations on criminals and to examine those deportations that are affecting people who are not criminals at a follow-up meeting with Janet Napolitano,” the Homeland Security secretary. Any change on this issue would be a welcome break from current policies, which have surprised immigration activists because of their single-minded focus on enforcement and removal of undocumented immigrants, despite Obama’s campaign talk about the ills of separating families.
The group from the president’s home state added:
“It is clear that the march is forcing the President and the political leaders to focus on immigration reform. We encourage everyone to come to Washington D.C. on March 21st to keep the pressure up–and we will judge the President by whether his actions follow his words.”