By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Despite President Obama putting immigration reform on the back burner, local immigrant rights advocates still have love for the chief executive.
The president made gains with immigrant rights groups when he unexpectedly dropped by a White House meeting last week attended by more than 100 immigration reform advocates. The session was led by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano — Obama was not expected to attend.
Obama’s appearance was carefully calculated considering just one week earlier in Mexico he said immigration reform would have to take a back seat to health care and energy reform efforts.
The strategy meeting was closed to the press, but attendees said both Obama and Napolitano expressed their commitment to immigration reform.
“President Obama and Secretary Napolitano remain committed to comprehensive immigration reform, know that enforcement of our outdated laws alone is no solution, and understood when we told them that pro-reform constituencies are growing impatient,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said in a statement.
The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition called Obama’s appearance a “welcome surprise.” The group agreed that the Obama administration is committed to comprehensive immigration reform.
But the group is holding their applause until they see actual action.
“While the president continues with his commitment to immigration reform, we’re looking for public advocacy from Secretary Napolitano and a concrete proposal from Congress,” said Julien Ross, director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. “In the meantime, we’re asking for more accountability on enforcement measures, especially in detention centers and 287(g) programs.”
Advocates are deeply concerned about controversial agreements — known as 287(g) — between local police and the federal government, in which some immigrant rights groups have accused local agencies of using the agreements to abuse immigrants. The programs deputize local police as immigration agents.
Attendees of the meeting last week said Napolitano agreed that local agencies must be held accountable.
Obama had earlier this year signaled his support for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. He originally suggested that legislation would be brought to Congress by as early as the fall.
But facing an economic downturn, a historic health care debate and several energy issues, the president backed off on the immigration reform effort.
Attendees of the meeting last week, however, said the president confirmed that his original message remains strong.
“The President is clear that he wants immigration reform to move forward this year so that we can pass a bill early next year,” said Noorani. “To do that, we need to see more motion from Congress and more push from Secretary Napolitano.”
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters