Backers of comprehensive immigration reform are gearing up for their first big meeting with President Barack Obama on Thursday, although it remains to be seen who will be attending and what will come of the bipartisan huddle.
Obama is hosting a small group of House and Senate lawmakers to begin discussions on the issue. Like Congressional leaders, Obama has signaled a desire to address the politically volatile issue but has given little detail on when or how to do so.
The meeting has been postponed twice over the past several weeks, causing some stakeholders to worry about Obama’s will to advance the issue anytime soon.
Details of the meeting remain hazy. Key lawmakers still don’t know if they are invited or what to expect from the gathering.
“Was I invited?— Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chairman Mike Honda (D-Calif.) asked.
Honda said — if he is in the meeting — he will press for his immigration bill to be attached “intact— to any overarching strategy. Honda’s bill, which he describes as “the heart of comprehensive immigration reform,— would make it easier for spouses and children of green-card holders to be reunited.
Other stakeholders are hoping the meeting sheds light on the more tactical aspects of immigration reform.
“Legislative timetable and strategy and that’s it,— said Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “I think everybody knows the essential moving parts of a comprehensive bill since we’ve dealt with it for so many years.—
On Friday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the goal of the meeting is to further discussions on the issue, not to lay out plans for moving legislation anytime soon.
“We know the votes aren’t there right now,— Gibbs said. “In 2005 and 2006, even in 2007, there was not a majority yet to do this. We want to work with those both in favor and in support of those previous efforts to see where we can get comprehensive immigration reform to pass.—
Since the votes are not there, Gibbs said, there must be more dialogue between people with competing interests. “Keep in mind that there will be people at the White House next week that don’t agree with where the president and others are,— he said.
Obama renewed his promise to act on comprehensive immigration reform — and drew cheers and applause — during remarks at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast on Friday.
“I’m committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform as president of the United States,— Obama said.
Obama highlighted the need to strengthen border security as well as clarify the status of the millions of illegal immigrants in the country, “many who have put down roots.—
“For those who wish to become citizens, we should require them to pay a penalty and pay taxes, learn English, go to the back of the line, behind those who played by the rules. That is the fair, practical and promising way forward. And that’s what I’m committed to passing as president of the United States,— Obama said.
Obama’s plug for immigration reform also triggered a renewed commitment on the Hill.
“President Obama’s commitment to passing comprehensive immigration reform is strong and I believe we are already making significant headway. We are exploring the fundamental building blocks for a strong, fair, and bipartisan proposal and will pursue it with all deliberate speed,— Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
Speaking at the same event, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she is open to ideas about how to incorporate immigration reforms into homeland security policies.
“We have to come down to one basic principle,— Napolitano said. “Everybody ... has to agree and believe that we begin with immigration with the concept that it is an embodiment of the rule of law and that the rule of law will be fully and fairly and effectively applied across the spectrum.—