White House Tries To Ease Hispanic Caucus Frustrations
WADE GOODWYN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Wade Goodwyn.
When the Obama administration announced it would not take unilateral action on immigration, it was a blow to many in the Hispanic community. Immigrant groups wanted the president to follow through on his promise to use his executive power to ease deportations. But with midterm elections approaching, Democrats fear it could be used as a weapon against their candidates.
The White House has had to deal with the backlash from Hispanics, who are among his strongest supporters. This week the president held a private meeting with Latino lawmakers, promising to take action. But will it be enough?
Cecilia Munoz is President Obama's domestic policy director and the highest-ranking Hispanic official in the administration. She joins us now from her office in the White House.
Director Munoz, thanks so much.
WHITE HOUSE DOMESTIC POLICY CHIEF CECILIA MUNOZ: Thanks for having me.
GOODWYN: On Thursday the president met with the Hispanic Caucus and by all accounts there was a forthright, shall we say, communication. Hispanic leaders are frustrated. Explain why.
MUNOZ: So it was the chief of staff and I, as well as the White House Counsel, which met with Hispanic Caucus and they were very clear that they were frustrated that the president didn't act at the end of summer as he had said he would. And we were able to explain that the president was thinking about what was going to be in the best interest of moving the issue forward for the long-term, understanding that was is going to lead to some frustration. He's thinking about making sure that when he takes executive action, that it's sustainable. But we made it clear to the Hispanic Caucus he will act by the end of the year.
GOODWYN: OK. Can we talk about what's on the table; the details of the proposals?
MUNOZ: So we've had recommendations that deal with people who were here without immigration status. We've had recommendations with respect to family immigrants, with respect to business immigrants. There is a lot that's broken in our immigration system that people are eager to fix.
But we've also been clear that the president's authorities are unlikely to give him the power to do everything that Congress did, that the Senate did, when they acted last year in a bipartisan way. So he will do what he can under the law. But it's not going to be the ultimate long-term fix to the immigration system that we need. For that, we need congressional action and we're going to continue to press for it until it happens.
GOODWYN: But we are talking about a proposal to grant temporary deportation relief to between 4 and 5 million undocumented parents of U.S. citizens.
MUNOZ: The Secretary and the Attorney General are still finalizing their recommendations to the president. And the president still has decisions to make on those recommendations. So we're not characterizing what the outcome is going to be and we'll do that when he's ready to make the announcement.
GOODWYN: Do you think Hispanic leaders are sympathetic to the president's political concerns when it comes to trying to save Southern and Midwestern Democrats where they can be saved?
MUNOZ: This is a highly emotionally charged issue and people want it fixed, and they want it fixed now. And the sense of frustration that we could see the finish line because the Senate acted and the House simply refused to take it up. So that sense of frustration and urgency is profound. And it is shared by this president and this White House.
GOODWYN: Well, on one side the president is worried about saving conservative Democrats, but without significant Hispanic turnout across the country, the Democrats could, you know, be imperiled. What's your assessment of Hispanic interest? Are they going to shrug their shoulders or are they going to get out the vote?
MUNOZ: People are very motivated and energized by the immigration issue, there's no question. But Latinos, as well as other Americans, care tremendously about the gains that we're making in education policy. The high school completion rate is at 80 percent - that's at its highest point ever in our history. People care about access to health care and the Latino community has gained more under the Affordable Care Act than other communities because they were more likely to be uninsured when President Obama took this on. People care very much about the minimum wage. They care about the health of the workforce. Immigration is one of a panoply of issues that people are focused on.
GOODWYN: Your history is as an organizer and as an activist and in loyalty to your president you've become a key member of his staff. But I have to think that were you not part of the administration, you'd be pounding it on it to act. True?
MUNOZ: So I started my career and worked for a quarter-century as an activist. And I worked for a president who started his career as a community organizer. He understands very deeply what the role of organizers and activists are. And you know, they should be in the administration's face, pushing for the kind of changes that we all need to see happen. At the end of the day, we want the same things. We want an immigration policy that makes sense, that strengthens our economy, that strengthens our families. That's what President Obama's working towards. We believe that's what the advocacy community is working towards. And we're all going to be stronger if we stay focused on getting the job done together.
GOODWYN: Cecilia Munoz is President Obama's domestic policy director. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
MUNOZ: Thank you very much.
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