Wednesday, March 18, 2009

President Barack Obama promises to tackle immigration system

By LAURA ISENSEE
The Dallas Morning News
3/18/2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama renewed his campaign promise to tackle the immigration system in a meeting with Hispanic lawmakers Wednesday.

"The president made clear to us that he is a man of his word," said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Obama also told the lawmakers that he will travel next month to Mexico to discuss escalating violence from drug cartels and immigration with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, White House officials said.

During the campaign, Obama supported a comprehensive overhaul of immigration policy, including creation of a possible path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are otherwise law-abiding.

Obama has yet to tackle the issue, as his administration has grappled with the economic crisis and an increasingly crowded agenda in his two months in office.

But immigration legislation is on the agenda and moving forward, said Hispanic lawmakers who attended the West Wing meeting, their first face-to-face meeting with the president. The caucus consists of all Democrats and one independent.

"The president said more than any of us expected him to say,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. “He was clear, eloquent and determined in letting us know that we're all together on the route to comprehensive immigration reform,"

Mr. Gutierrez, who is wrapping up a cross-country tour to highlight how families are affected by the immigration system, said the lawmakers “made it absolutely clear that this is a civil rights issue of our community.”

Obama told the group that he will work immigration system in a similar way that he has rolled out other major policy initiatives. There will be a public forum on immigration, possibly within the next two months.

At that forum, key principles of a legislative package would be unveiled, Gutierrez said.

Legislative efforts have died off since Congress has failed in 2007 to legalize some 11 to 12 million people who are in the country illegally.

While working towards legislation, the Obama administration is working on internal changes at the Department of Homeland Security, including a review of work-place raids.

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