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Obama to Hispanic Caucus: Calls for DREAM Act Passage, but No Specifics

4 years ago
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Meeting with leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the White House Tuesday, President Obama reiterated his support for fixing the country's "broken immigration system" -- but gave little indication that in this year's remaining lame-duck congressional session, his administration could win passage of key legislation granting legal status to some illegal immigrant students.

The president, in a White House statement released following the meeting, thanked caucus members Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) "for their constant efforts on this issue" and highlighted earlier bipartisan support for the DREAM Act. The president further "reiterated his strong support for bipartisan Congressional action on immigration reform at the earliest opportunity," though most -- if not all -- immigration-reform advocates do not believe comprehensive reform will be possible this year -- or possibly even in the next session of Congress.

The DREAM Act would open a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant students by granting conditional legal status if they arrived in the United States before they were 16 years old, have been in the states for at least five years, have graduated from high school in the United States and completed two years of college or military service.

Though the proposed legislation initially enjoyed bipartisan support, Senate Republicans including John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Sessions (R.-Ala.) have said in recent weeks that they would not support it. The DREAM Act is presently attached to a defense spending authorization bill awaiting passage in Congress.

Congressman Gutierrez said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that he was "all-in" for the DREAM Act, and that he was optimistic the provision could pass in the remaining congressional calendar. "Speaker Pelosi has indicated to me personally that she wants the House to move on the DREAM Act. Majority Leader Harry Reid has consistently supported a DREAM Act vote during lame-duck, and now the president and I have had an opportunity to discuss the lame-duck strategy," read the release.

Immigration advocacy groups remained split on the possibility that Congress will pass the legislation. "Never say never, but it's really, really, really hard to imagine" something happening, said Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of Immigration Works, a pro-immigration business advocacy group. "The pattern that I'm somewhat concerned about is one we've seen since March," she added, "where the president and congressional Democrats have been in the guise of inviting Republicans to participate [in the immigration debate], but use it as way to box Republicans in -- and to make sure that Democrats get credit with Latinos for bringing it up."

Jacoby characterizes the issue as becoming a political football -- "Latinos voted for Democrats in this year's elections, and [meetings like this one] are the president's way of saying, 'We heard you.'"

Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America's Voice, remained upbeat about the prospect of the act's passage in Congress: "I think it's interesting that they're choosing to meet now" she said of the White House meeting. "There's lots of momentum about moving the DREAM act [forward]. We're feeling more optimistic than ever."

But as far as White House leadership on the issue, Tramonte said, "The president made a promise to tackle immigration reform within his first year. The fact that law enforcement has remained very tough, but there haven't been gains in reform is very concerning to advocates and to the Latino community." She continued, "Obama has voiced his support and spoken elegantly on the issue, but he should put some muscle into the DREAM Act to show that he's serious."

One senior official familiar with Tuesday's meeting said that Hispanic caucus members were upbeat, but that that they still "really need the president to pick up the phone and call some Republicans" to garner support for the DREAM Act. Whether -- and when -- President Obama will do that remains to be seen.

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