The Obama administration’s domestic policy director urged supporters of comprehensive immigration reform on Wednesday to do as the civil rights leaders of the 1960s did – not let opponents defeat them.
Cecilia Muñoz, one of the most senior Latino officials in the White House, linked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with today’s fight for immigration reform in an interview with Fox News Latino.
“Today is about celebrating how far we’ve come and recommitting to the work that is ahead,” Muñoz said, adding that just as the civil rights movement of the 1960s addressed jobs, so does immigration reform.
“Immigration reform is just one piece of the agenda,” she said, “we can now quantify what it means for creating jobs, not just for immigrants, but for the rest of us.”
Muñoz, who has been a point person for Obama on immigration policy, said that significant movement on an immigration reform measure, or measures, was unlikely to happen before October. She said there are few legislative days in September, when members of Congress are to return from summer recess, and that their focus will be the debt ceiling and the budget.
That is later than the August deadline that President Obama had hoped for earlier this year, expressing concern that delays could hurt the chances of an immigration reform bill passing by December.
And in an interview with Fox News Latino a few weeks ago, Muñoz had said she hoped there would be a vote on a reform bill before October. But on Monday Treasury Secretary Jack Lew set a mid-October debt-ceiling deadline, and some Republicans in the House are saying that it makes major action on immigration bills unlikely in that month, according to Politico.com
Muñoz said there’s no valid reason for more delays on House action on immigration.
The Senate, which passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in June, showed that “it’s possible to get this job done well and it’s possible to get it done in a bipartisan bill,” she said.
House Republican leaders have said they will not vote on the Senate’s sweeping immigration bill, and that they prefer to address the issue in a piecemeal fashion, through several separate measures.
“It looks like the House will bring [for a vote] some portion of five bills that have been ready since July,” she said.
“They’ve already been through the committee.”
Muñoz said the president is not trying to rush reform legislation.
“We would like a debate” on the House floor, she said. “We think there’s bipartisan support for a reform bill.”
Some Republican leaders who are key to what happens to immigration bills in the House have been particularly vocal in recent weeks about their opposition to the general concept of allowing some undocumented immigrants to legalize their status.
As recently as Friday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, assailed Obama for issuing a directive that calls on immigration officials to use discretion when considering detaining immigrants who have minor children.
Goodlatte said the directive undermines the efforts in Congress to find a bipartisan solution to the flawed immigration system. Many conservative members of Congress have criticized efforts by the Obama administration to loosen penalties for certain undocumented immigrants, including a 2012 directive suspending deportation for those who were brought to the United States as minors.
Muñoz balked at the criticism.
She said such directives are part of “a series of building blocks” that were laid out a few years ago in a memo by John Morton, the then-director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, calling for prosecutorial discretion in the case of undocumented immigrants who were not criminals or tied to terrorism.
“We’re maximizing the law enforcement impact of what we do,” she said, by prioritizing enforcement actions according to categories of undocumented immigrants.
As for Goodlatte, she said, “You could argue with the congressman, or anyone else, who is dissatisfied with our broken immigration system, that is a great argument for fixing it. It’s now abundantly clear. . .the depth and breadth of the constituents who support immigration reform is [now] greater than anyone has ever seen.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente