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Immigration Reform Advocates Hope for Administration Action

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Rep. Luis Gutierrez and other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus emphasized a desire for help on immigration reform from the Obama administration in a meeting Tuesday.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus won’t be able to push immigration reform through Congress this year, but a White House meeting Tuesday made its members hopeful that administrative options remain.

President Barack Obama and his advisers told caucus members that the administration is looking into ways to concentrate enforcement resources on criminals “so that we are not using our limited resources on those potentially eligible for an adjustment of status,” according to a White House statement.

The message was a new but anticipated one for the Hispanic group, which is pushing for Obama to pursue immigration reform through administrative means.

“It was what I expected it would be,” Rep. Jim Costa said of the 90-minute meeting. “They talked about trying to work on some issues and ensure there’s prioritization on the enforcement and make it evenhanded across the country.”

The California Democrat acknowledged that not all of the 17 caucus members in attendance were pleased with Obama’s message. Some wanted the president to lay out a set of proposals on how his administration can begin to reform existing immigration laws, and they were disappointed he didn’t commit to any specifics.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the more outspoken members of the caucus, said Tuesday’s meeting was “productive” but added that members were “clear and emphatic about the need for administrative relief and the extent of the damage the deportations are causing to American families.”

Still, immigration advocates said Tuesday’s meeting was a positive step.

“It was better than expected,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. Obama and administration officials committed “at a minimum” to forming new policies regarding interpretation of current law, Sharry added.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, who attended the meeting, said Obama could unveil a series of proposals soon.

“I think you will see an immigration policy presentation,” the California Democrat said. “I think they’re gearing up on something on immigration, and they’re going to make some announcements on how it’s going to be.”

Tuesday’s meeting was the White House’s third focusing on immigration in three weeks. Obama also spoke on the issue during an address to students at Miami Dade College last week.

Sharry suggested that Obama was factoring his 2012 re-election campaign into his recent push on immigration, in part because swing states such as New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Florida are home to thousands of Hispanics whose turnout could be crucial.

“I want to work with Democrats and Republicans, yes, to protect our borders, and enforce our laws, and address the status of millions of undocumented workers,” Obama told the crowd in Miami.

“I will keep fighting alongside many of you to make the DREAM Act the law of the land,” he added, referring to a top legislative priority for immigration advocates.

Sharry charged that Obama has not yet been bold enough on the issue to rally the Hispanic electorate.

“From my point of view, if he wanted to be political and turn out the Latino vote, he would do something bold and welcome the overreaction of the Republicans,” Sharry said, suggesting that Obama pursue the goals of the DREAM Act through the administration.

But, he added, “they probably fear loss of swing voters.”

The DREAM Act would creates a path to citizenship for students and members of the military. The bill passed in the House last year under the Democratic majority, but it fell five votes short in the Senate.

The December vote in the Senate was considered a last-ditch effort for the legislation, which does not have wide support among Republicans and would not pass the GOP-controlled House.

“Our first priority must be ending the violence at the border — we really can’t deal with other issues until it is secure,” Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), told Roll Call on Tuesday.

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