Obama promises to tackle immigration in 2009

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President Barack Obama and his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have pledged their support for immigration issues to be addressed within the year, according to reports from the Associated Press and the White House. Though many – including Vice President Joe Biden – have expressed skepticism that widespread immigration reform would be possible in the current economic climate, Obama seems cautiously optimistic. Senior administration officials were quoted as saying that this could be on the table as early as May, however, immigration would still not be on the same level as higher priority issues such as healthcare and energy. “Nobody’s promising legislation or a vote this year,” one official added. obama2President Barack Obama and his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have pledged their support for immigration issues to be addressed within the year, according to reports from the Associated Press and the White House. Though many – including Vice President Joe Biden – have expressed skepticism that widespread immigration reform would be possible in the current economic climate, Obama seems cautiously optimistic. Senior administration officials were quoted as saying that this could be on the table as early as May, however, immigration would still not be on the same level as higher priority issues such as healthcare and energy. “Nobody’s promising legislation or a vote this year,” one official added.

“People who have been here for a long time and put down roots here have to have some mechanisms over time to get out of the shadows,” Obama told a California town hall audience late last month, echoing some of the rhetoric he used in his presidential campaign. The goal will be to have an immigration program which “controls immigration and makes it an orderly system,” said Cecilia Munoz, director of White House intergovernmental affairs. The strategy would likely be similar to the one outlined in the campaign – expect undocumented immigrants to pay taxes and fines, yet keep them in the US with a path to legalization.

Emanuel, who was quoted last year as saying he thought immigration reform would be put off until the President’s second term, is backing Obama whole-heartedly. Janet Murguia, president of La Raza, recalled arguing with Emanuel in the Clinton administration about immigration issues, where Emanuel advocated tougher regulations and tough enforcement. But Emanuel has since modified his stance. Murguia thinks that Emanuel’s previous stance was simply good politics for the occasion. “There’s no more brilliant political strategist than Rahm,” Murguia said. “He was shrewdly trying to lay out vehicles that would provide Democrats cover on [the immigration] issue.” Now that Latino voters are a sizeable part of a Democratic constituency, Rahm Emanuel is free to voice his support, argues Murguia.

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Whatever the reasons, attitudes are beginning to change sharply in Washington. And grassroots support has been well under development since Rep. Gutierrez began his now much-publicized campaign in support of proactive, positive legislation for immigrants. At the suggestion that this might not be the best time for an immigration bill, Gutierrez was incredulous. “There is never a wrong time for us,” he said. “Families are being divided and destroyed, and they need help now.”

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