Obama Addresses Immigration Reform

Obama addresses immigration reform

By Josh Gerstein
The Politico (Washington, DC), August 20, 2009

President Barack Obama on Thursday managed to undo some of the damage he did recently with immigrants rights advocates who were angered when Obama said in Mexico that immigration reform would have to wait until after health care and energy bills passed Congress.

Obama dropped in on a White House meeting with more than 100 immigration reform backers and the message, according to some who were there, was that Obama would push for immigration reform even as the health-care debate continues to unfold.

'I think hes more forward-leaning,' said Angela Kelley, an immigration reform expert with the liberal Center for American Progress think tank. 'The takeaway from Mexico was that this is just kicking the can down the road. The takeaway from today is theyre rolling up their sleeves and leaning heavy into the issue.'

There was no indication that the president set a timeline for reform, though he said he expected Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to introduce and hold hearings on a major immigration bill this fall, participants said.

'Hes doing this and health care. He didnt give an inkling that hes going to back away from immigration reform. I think hes ready to do the heavy lifting,' said Kelley.

The session was officially hosted by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who has been sharply criticized by immigrant advocates in recent days for putting too much emphasis on enforcement and too little on reform legislation and making the immigration system more humane.

The meeting included advocacy groups, religious organizations, unions, employers and law enforcement. United Farm Workers Union President Arturo Rodriguez said participants delivered blunt messages to Napolitano that she needed to adjust her public message.

'Very frankly, one issue was that we want to make sure youre communicating the importance of immigration as much as you are communicating the importance of enforcement,' Rodriguez said. 'We are a nation of laws. We all understand that, but simultaneously we are a nation of immigrants as well that treats people with dignity and respect. We delivered that. I think she got that message loud and clear from everybody.'

'I think the secretary realized that she needs to do a better job on behalf of the administration but also in a way that supports the House and Senate moving forward. Thats significant,' said Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum. 'The proof is in the pudding, and theyre still making the pudding. There are lots of things the secretary can do in terms of administrative changes and a lot of leadership she can exert.'

Participants said both Obama and Napolitano both brought up controversial arrangements under which local police partner with the federal government to enforce immigration laws. Critics have accused some local officials of using such deals to harass immigrants and, in some cases, U.S. citizens. Obama and Napolitano said local officials must be held 'accountable' for their actions under the program, known as 287(g), attendees said.

The media was not allowed into the meeting, but Napolitano later issued a written statement emphasizing her commitment to reform.

'Todays meeting on comprehensive immigration reform was an important opportunity to hear from stakeholders and build on the significant time Ive spent on the Hill meeting with members of Congress on this critical subject. I look forward to working with President Obama, my colleagues in Congress and representatives from law enforcement, business, labor organizations, the interfaith community, advocacy groups and others as we work on this important issue,' she said.

A spokesman for Obama, Nick Shapiro, said Obamas message has not wavered.

'The President understands our nations immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed, and thats why he asked Secretary Napolitano to work with stakeholders and Members of Congress to move the legislative process forward on this important issue. The President has consistently said we would begin work on comprehensive immigration reform this year, and thats what were doing,' Shapiro said in a statement.

Napolitanos office released a list of attendees at the meeting. The roster of employers invited was heavy with technology firms, such as Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, and Oracle, who often press for visas to hire foreign citizens. Lower-wage employers such as McDonalds, Tyson Foods, and Wal-Mart also attended.

Noorani said he was pleased with the meeting, but wouldnt say immigration reform advocates are yet satisfied with the commitment Napolitano or the White House have shown on the issues.

Asked if they are now on the same page, he said, 'At the time of the Inauguration, we were in the same book. At this point were in the same chapter, but its a long book and we read at different speeds.'

EDITOR'S NOTE: DHS Sec Napolitano's statement on the August 20th meeting is available online at: http://www.dhs.gov/ynews/releases/pr_1250792978709.shtm


Immigration reform could be heavy lift after health care
By Dena Bunis
The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, CA), August 20, 2009

It may seem like the Obama administration is focused totally on health care reform these days. But about 100 people for whom immigration reform is concern No. 1 were at the White House today for a working session on that issue. The president says he is intent on getting to immigration reform once health and energy are taken care of.

Thats a tall order. The people in the room must have been wondering what the chances are, in light of the difficulty the president is having getting action on health care.

'I think they are separate issues, said Eliso Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union.

Medina was among immigration advocates, business leaders, labor, clergy and law enforcement officials at the meeting, convened by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

The political capital President Barack Obama is using up on health care will make immigration more difficult, Medina acknowledged. 'It would be great if the president had a 90 percent approval rating, he said. But this just means 'those of us who support immigration reform are going to have to work harder to make sure we can deliver public support.

Obama made an unscheduled stop at the session; something that Im sure was designed to reassure these folks that he does plan to tackle this emotional and politically volatile issue.

Angelo Amador, executive vice president for immigration at the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, said health care wasnt mentioned at the meeting but the specter of it was definitely in the room. During his remarks, Amador said, Obama talked about the practice theyre getting now on working with lawmakers on a difficult issue.

'Obviously health care is taking longer than people expected, said Amador, who wondered what 'the appetite will be for people to take on another contentious issue.

The people I spoke to who were inside the meeting said it was more than just a feel good dog and pony show. They broke up into small working groups with an eye towards making suggestions and letting administration officials know what the flash points were likely to be when the debate on this issue gets serious, probably early next year.

'It wasnt all a love fest, said Angela Kelley, who heads the immigration project for the Center for American Progress, a think tank headed by former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta. 'It was a real honest exchange.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, made it clear in a statement that Napolitano still needs to prove herself to advocacy groups like his.

'We were there to tell Secretary Napolitano that she needs to take a leadership role in building support for comprehensive immigration reform on Capitol Hill and with the American public, Noorani said. 'She told us she understands she has to do a better job communicating and a more consistent job of leading, but we need to see action to be sure she really got the message.'

Immigration advocates are not thrilled with Napolitanos expansion of a federal provision that allows local police agencies to enforce immigration laws. And they let the secretary know that.

Jon Adler, who heads the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, says his 26,000 members are obviously most concerned with the security piece of this effort. Specifically, he said, they believe that law enforcement needs to concentrate on those who want to come into this country to commit crime, 'those who come in to cause harm, drug trafficking and gangs.

'We recognize that the majority of people coming in here are hard working decent people, Adler said.

The main point of contention among these groups continues to be the view of business and Republican supporters of immigration reform that there needs to be a new temporary worker program to accommodate their labor needs.

Labor leaders, however, oppose such a plan and instead want a commission to determine future foreign worker needs. Thats something business has been opposed to.

Amador said at one of the sessions Napolitano told the labor representative that they should think about what else they could live with on this issue. She said she had been at a meeting between the president and Sen. John McCain who said the commission was a non-starter.

McCain had partnered with Sen. Edward Kennedy on health reform in 2006. His support is seen as essential to get any GOP buy-in on a comprehensive bill.


Laying groundwork on immigration
By Foon Rhee
The Boston Globe, August 20, 2009

Obama Quietly Seeking Grassroots Unity on Immigration Reform
The San Francisco Chronicle, August 20, 2009

Obama Administration moves towards amnesty, alienates anti-amnesty groups
By Kimberly Dvorak
The Examiner (San Diego), August 20, 2009

Jewish groups at White House immigration confab
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, August 20, 2009

Obama Tells Groups He Will Push for Immigration Reform
The Latin American Herald Tribune (Caracas), August 20, 2009

Obama vows to push for migration reform, immigrants demand changes
Deutsche Presse Agentur, August 20, 2009