Immigration reform advocates encouraged by president’s leadership

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President Obama urged Congress to pursue immigration reform paralleling similar principles advocated by Senators yesterday, but he assured the community he would step in if debate falters. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

President Obama urged Congress to pursue immigration reform paralleling similar principles advocated by Senators yesterday, but he assured the community he would step in if debate falters.

The president told the nation in Las Vegas that Congress is showing a “genuine desire” to get legislation done quickly. He was quick to praise the efforts outlined yesterday by the bipartisan group of Senators indicating that “it’s very much in line with the principles” he outlined. Yet, he also took it a step further and assured that he would introduce his own legislation in Capitol Hill if a consensus is not reached.

That brought support from immigration reform supporters that were hoping to see a different approach.

“One of the things that was different this time from the past speeches is that he made it very clear that he is going to take leadership and he made a very clear statement that if the (Congress) can’t reach an agreement on what to propose then he will step in and he will propose a solution,” said Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

“It’s the first time he has made that statement that I know of in any of his previous speeches.”

Another key element was that the president did not tie border enforcement to a pathway to citizenship. He also indicated that those persons who are hoping to apply to citizenship will have to wait until the backlog is cleared.

“For comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship,” he said.

Did the president strike the right tone?

Tension also escalated on whether the president would enforce his own immigration measure that could potentially affect debate among Democrats and Republicans over how to deal with the nation’s 11 million undocumented persons.

Lawmakers in Congress issued several statements praising the president’s efforts, while some Republicans indicated they were cautiously optimistic of the president’s outline. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida who has recently echoed an aggressive push on immigration reform was more vocal in explaining his distress with the president’s speech.

“I am concerned by the President’s unwillingness to accept significant enforcement triggers before current undocumented immigrants can apply for a green card. Without such triggers in place, enforcement systems will never be implemented and we will be back in just a few years dealing with millions of new undocumented people in our country,” said Rubio in a statement.

Rubio further indicated that the President’s speech “left the impression that he believes reforming immigration quickly is more important than reforming immigration right.”

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus echoed a more supportive role. Chairman of CHC, Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas) said he was optimistic that bipartisan cooperation will prevail. “Immigration reform started as a bipartisan issue and with President Obama’s leadership and positive reception of the Senate principles, we are confident that it will pass as a bipartisan bill,” Hinojosa said in a statement.

Frank Sharry, director of America’s Voice, told reporters that he believes the president’s speech was not tinged to incite partisanship. He said the president did “strike the right tone.”

“How can he encourage a bipartisan process without becoming a hostage to it?” said Sharry. “In the president’s first term, there have been numerous bipartisan processes that resulted in delay and derailment in his priorities.”

Sharry said, “I think he faced a very difficult tactical decision as to whether he was going to introduce his own bill or hang back and respect and encourage a bipartisan process—as someone who has been so concerned about that…I thought he did strike the right tone.”

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