In the midst of trying to wrap up health care, President Obama carved time out of his schedule yesterday to meet with reformers and key Senators on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). After yesterday’s meetings, some are reporting that the President is again committed to moving CIR this year. Supporters of immigration reform are wary, but hopeful, that this time he means business.
Yesterday afternoon, the President met with leaders of grassroots immigration groups, unions, and faith communities for over an hour to discuss their demands for greater White House engagement on immigration reform, commitment to moving a bill this year, and to remembering that real people are hurting. They want evidence of real engagement in time for the huge gathering of immigration reform supporters in Washington on March 21. Many of these leaders were from organizations that soundly criticized the White House for a continued escalation in deportations at a press conference earlier this week.
The President also met with Senators Schumer and Graham to discuss their progress on putting together a bipartisan immigration reform bill. According to a statement released by Senator Schumer’s office, they asked the President to put his weight behind gathering more support in the Senate for the bill and in helping to nail down the details of the future flow component of the bill, an area where business and labor have been trying to find agreement.
Why the flurry of activity? As March 21 nears, there has been growing pressure on both the President and Senators Schumer and Graham to make good on last year’s promises to get immigration reform done sooner rather than later. A real show of progress is necessary to reassure tens of thousands of people who will gather on the mall that reform is imminent. Otherwise, the Administration and both parties are likely come under attack for failing to keep their promises. Politicians don’t like to hear that. As Bob Creamer writes in the Huffington Post, even many Republicans dread the negative publicity of continued inaction on immigration.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, we should recognize that getting legislation to the President’s desk is a long and complicated process of politics and policy—and the political is clearly the key component right now. For example, many are trying to extract the meaning of Senator Graham’s recent statement that immigration reform would be dead in the water if the White House pursued reconciliation to get healthcare reform passed. Since the Republican party as a whole has been threatening the collapse of the known world should reconciliation be used, this is probably just political posturing. But it could also be a convenient excuse to walk away from immigration reform, especially if no other Republicans are willing to come on board.
Assuming that reason prevails and immigration reform moves, turning the private framework into a public document is job one for the Senators. That, too, will lead to intense scrutiny from the left and the right, a call for more details, and lots of pressure to turn principles into legislation. Once you start fleshing out the details, you start risking internal and external disagreements on both the policy and the politics of immigration reform.
But, given the start and stop character of immigration reform over the last year, yesterday’s pronouncements also provide a new sense of momentum and hope. It demonstrates the growing scope and depth of the immigration reform movement. It shows that immigration reform is becoming a mainstream issue that has to be reckoned with. It also shows that real people can get through to our leaders if they bang the drum loud enough.
If yesterday’s events are accompanied by some concrete actions between now and the March 21, it is likely that the President and the Senators will reap the benefits of some public praise. If they are just empty promises, however, things could start to become uncomfortable come midterm elections.
Photo by Downing Street.