By ABBY PHILLIP 04/19/11 5:47 PM Updated: 04/19/11 6:34 PM
President Obama told about 70 community and religious leaders on Tuesday that he hasn’t given up on immigration.
According to Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, Obama made a “compelling case” in a meeting at the White House that he was still committed to changing the immigration system, despite his failure to move legislation in either body of Congress in the last two years.
Obama said he wouldn’t let the failed voted in December on the Dream Act, which would allow the children of illegal immigrants to attend public universities and achieve a path to citizenship, be the last word on that bill.
Rev. Al Sharpton told reporters that at the “unusual meeting,” in which Obama stayed the whole time, Obama asked the leaders to continue pushing their constituencies to apply congressional pressure on immigration.
“I think he was very candid, but I think he also put out the challenge for those of us that participated to give him feedback from various constituencies,” Sharpton said. “All politicians have to listen to their base.”
Asked about whether the timing of the meeting was designed to gin up support before Obama’s three-day trip to the West Coast, Sharpton said he and others in the room didn’t ask.
“One thing I don't think any of us did ... none of us asked the president, ‘Why did you invite us now?’ ” Sharpton said.
The White House later released this statement:
"In a meeting in the State Dining Room this afternoon, the President and members of his Cabinet and senior staff met with a broad group of business, law enforcement, faith, and former and current elected leaders from across the political spectrum to hear their ideas and suggestions on how to tackle our shared challenge of fixing our nation’s broken immigration system in order to meet our 21st century economic and security needs.
"The President reiterated his deep disappointment that Congressional action on immigration reform has stalled and that the DREAM Act failed to pass in the U.S. Senate after passing with a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House in December. The President listened to stakeholders describe a variety of problems that result from the broken system, including: educating the best and brightest but then shipping that talent overseas; concerns over the ability of businesses to reliably hire and retain a legal workforce; and the need to level the playing field for American workers by ending the underground labor market. In addition, local law enforcement officers expressed concern that without reform, enforcing federal immigration laws is a distraction from their important public safety and crime fighting mandates to keep their local communities safe, and faith leaders highlighted the damage to families and communities when families are separated, including parents who are taken away from their U.S. Citizen children.
"The President reiterated his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform that both strengthens security at our borders while restoring accountability to the broken immigration system, and pointed out that perpetuating a broken immigration system is not an option if America is to win the future.
"The President made it clear that while his Administration continues to improve our legal immigration system, secure our borders, and enhance our immigration enforcement so that it is more effectively and sensibly focusing on criminals, the only way to fix what’s broken about our immigration system is through legislative action in Congress. The President noted that he will continue to work to forge bipartisan consensus and will intensify efforts to lead a civil debate on this issue in the coming weeks and months, but also noted that he cannot be successful if he is leading the debate alone. The President urged meeting participants to take a public and active role to lead a constructive and civil debate on the need to fix the broken immigration system. He stressed that in order to successfully tackle this issue they must bring the debate to communities around the country and involve many sectors of American society in insisting that Congress act to create a system that meets our nation's needs for the 21st century and that upholds America's history as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. The President further committed that his Cabinet and White House team will follow up with each participant to maximize the outcome of this meeting in order to elevate the immigration debate. "