Obama, faith leaders talk immigration reform

 

President Obama met with faith leaders Tuesday to discuss immigration, as Democrats looked to ratchet up pressure on House Republicans to take up immigration reform this year.

"The president believes that there is an opportunity that still exists for House Republicans to follow the lead of the Senate, including Republicans in the Senate, and take up and pass comprehensive immigration reform," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. 

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"And today's meeting that the president had with faith leaders demonstrates and reinforces the fact that there is a broad, unusually broad, coalition that supports that effort, that supports comprehensive immigration reform and all the benefits that making reform the law would provide to the country, to our security, to our economy, to our businesses."

The meeting with six faith leaders came as House Democrats announced an initiative to target 30 Republicans who have voiced some support for immigration reform, in hopes of winning over support for a discharge petition that would allow a floor vote on the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill. 

According to the White House, the faith leaders told the president stories about how immigration policies had impacted members of their congregation.

Obama "emphasized that while his Administration can take steps to better enforce and administer immigration laws, nothing can replace the certainty of legislative reform and this permanent solution can only be achieved by Congress," the White House said.

The effort by Democrats comes as the White House is under increasing pressure from immigration activists to move unilaterally to slow deportations. Last month, Obama announced he had ordered the Department of Homeland Security to review the administration's existing procedures.

On Tuesday, Carney said that review "of practices and the implementation of enforcement guidelines" was ongoing.

Last month, Janet Murguía, the head of the National Council of La Raza, made waves by labeling Obama the "deporter in-chief."

The criticism was seen as particularly stinging because the group has been among the president's strongest supporters, and because White House domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz was a former NCLR vice president.

Murguía's comments also appeared to spur other top Democrats — including Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) — to openly call on Obama to ease deportations of illegal immigrants while waiting on a comprehensive immigration bill.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus had also threatened to pursue a referendum urging administrative action if the White House did not consider new ways to halt deportations.

Participants in the meeting included: Valerie Jarrett, Obama's senior advisor; Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Dr. Noel Castellanos, CEO of Christian Community Development Association; Luis Cortes, president of the Hispanic faith-based organization Esperanza; JoAnne Lyon, general superintendent of Indiana's The Wesleyan Church; Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention; Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; and Dieter Uchtdorf, second counselor of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.