President Obama on Tuesday said the House has a “very narrow window” of two or three months to move forward on immigration reform.
“The closer we get to midterm elections, the harder it will be to get things done,” Obama said during a meeting with more than 40 law enforcement officials Tuesday at the White House.
The president tailored his remarks to the audience, arguing that having to focus on immigration enforcement was stopping police from “chasing gang bangers and going after violent criminals.”
“Our broken immigration system makes it harder for our law enforcement agencies to do their job,” Obama said.
White House officials are hopeful they can pressure Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has voiced support for reform on the issue, to move on legislation approved last year by the Senate. But Boehner has said repeatedly that the House will not vote on the Senate bill and that the president needs to reestablish trust with GOP lawmakers for there to be any chance of an immigration bill.
“We have a broken immigration system, but it is impossible to make progress until the American people — and their elected representatives — have faith that the President himself will actually enforce the law as written,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
On Monday, Boehner told the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce that he still faced resistance among some members of his caucus.
“I need to work with my colleagues and bring them along. And while I feel strongly about the need to deal with immigration reform, I have got to bring these members along,” Boehner said.
In the interim, the Department of Homeland Security is undertaking an internal review of how the White House might alter deportation procedures unilaterally. While the White House has insisted executive action will be no substitute for legislation, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who is spearheading the review, was among the administration officials at the meeting with law enforcement on Tuesday.
Immigration reform advocates have increasingly pushed for Obama to take executive action to slow or halt deportations in the absence of congressional action on a comprehensive proposal. And large cities have started to balk at requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of the Secure Communities program to delay the release of illegal immigrants for possible deportation proceedings.
Law enforcement advocates supportive of immigration reform say that giving legal status to illegal immigrants will keep cities safer by allowing people to come forward with reports of crime without fear of being deported themselves. And the federal detention policies, they argue, are taking up resources that would be better spent targeting violent crimes.
Participants said that was a major focus of the meeting and that while neither Obama nor Johnson made any firm commitments, they left with the impression that there would be a “reboot” in the Secure Communities initiative to make the directives to local law enforcement much more “sharply defined.”
“I got a sense that what they’re going to do is they’re going to go back, regroup, and they’re going to focus their efforts on what we need to focus on,” said Art Acevedo, police chief in Austin, Texas. “We didn’t become cops to go chase a nanny that is watching our child, or a farm laborer who’s helping us grow our crops. We became cops to go after gangbangers, MS-13, people who have done harm to our society and not people that on balance are actually doing a lot of good for our economy.”
Acevedo said he asked Obama and Johnson for a new directive by the end of the month ahead of a major law enforcement meeting in San Francisco.
They didn’t set a deadline, he said, but Acevedo added, “I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll have something at least in terms of the direction of Secure Communities by the end of the month.”
Updated at 8:26 p.m.