White House Hosts Meeting on Immigration While immigration has been thrown on the back burner in favor of issues like health care, President Obama will meet with members of Congress to discuss changes he promised on the trail. But his vision for immigration policy may not be politically viable.
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White House Hosts Meeting on Immigration

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White House Hosts Meeting on Immigration

White House Hosts Meeting on Immigration

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

On top of Iran, health care, climate change, President Obama is taking up another thorny topic this week. Mr. Obama is schedule to meet tomorrow with members of Congress and the topic is immigration. During the campaign he pledged a sweeping overhaul of immigration policy in his first year in office. But so far the issue has been pushed off by other priorities. Even tomorrow's meeting was twice delayed.

NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports that expectations are low.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: The meeting will include lawmakers from both the Senate and House, from both political parties and both sides of this contentious topic.

Ms. ANGELA KELLY (Center for American Progress): It's like the opening whistle, and it means that the debate is under way in a very serious manner.

LUDDEN: Angela Kelly, of the Center for American Progress, has spent years lobbying Congress to revamp immigration laws. She says President Obama has repeatedly expressed support for the very changes she'd like: stepped-up security at the border and workplace, and legalization for some 12 million undocumented immigrants. If he hasn't shown the same urgency as with, say, health care, Kelly's still hopeful.

Ms. KELLY: You know there's no grave disappointment on my end yet. But on the other hand, the clock is ticking and we know we need to move forward. And I think the fact is that there isn't any other viable option on the table.

LUDDEN: That's true, but it's also not clear Mr. Obama's vision for reform is politically viable. Some who've made clear they're dead set against a legalization program are due to be at the White House meeting. Roy Beck, of Numbers USA, says that could be a good sign. He opposes amnesty and wants to restrict all immigration.

Mr. ROY BECK (Numbers USA): By having people on the other side - strong senators and congressmen - on the other side of this issue at the White House, at this meeting, he'll be able to say, hey, look, see how hard this is going to be? See how far apart we are?

LUDDEN: On the other hand, Beck says maybe including both sides is a sign that Mr. Obama is really serious about an immigration overhaul, since winning over Republicans is the only way it's going to happen. Immigrant advocates say the strong Latino vote for Mr. Obama last fall also makes it more important that he address the issue. Still, given that an overhaul twice failed in Congress in recent years, Beck says the safe bet is that the president won't press for much anytime soon.

Mr. BECK: He's trying hard to be, I think, kind to this lobby, but they're asking him to sort of commit political suicide. And as they're saying, unless you commit political suicide, we're not going to vote for you next time. Well, that's crazy.

Ms. CHRISTINE NEUMANN-ORTIZ (Voces de la Frontera): It's just tragic, that there's been so many delays.

LUDDEN: Christine Neumann-Ortiz heads Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant advocacy group in Wisconsin. Attention on Capitol Hill may have turned elsewhere, but she's busy as ever organizing thousands in street rallies, asking for drivers licenses for the undocumented and in-state tuition for students whose parents brought them to the U.S. illegally. Neumann-Ortiz also helps those arrested when immigration agents raid their homes.

Ms. NEUMANN-ORTIZ: Frankly, under the Obama administration, there's no change that we've seen in terms of the rate of people, for being, you know, come to us seeking help.

LUDDEN: Angela Kelly, at the Center for American Progress, says the myriad problems of the nation's broken immigration system aren't going away. She hopes the White House and Congress get serious about them at tomorrow's meeting, but if not, she says they'll have to at some point.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.

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