By SEUNG MIN KIM | 9/11/14 4:57 PM EDT
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough pledged to Latino lawmakers during a private meeting Thursday that President Barack Obama will take executive action on immigration before the holidays are over – an effort to soothe lawmakers furious about the administration’s move to hold off on action.
The timeline was described by several members who attended the meeting and, substantively speaking, isn’t different than the end-of-year pledge made by the White House when it moved to delay executive action on immigration until after the midterm elections.
But it gives at least some faith to members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who have long pressured the Obama administration to ease deportations of undocumented immigrants – particularly as the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform on the Hill slowly collapsed over the last year.
One member who attended – Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) — said there was some “serious venting” inside the room.
“As I told the chief, I said I for one need constant reassurance,” Grijalva said. “I don’t want to go down this path come November and then for some other reason, find that the immigrant community and the Latino community get thrown in the heap again.”
Multiple people familiar with the meeting said McDonough did not go into specifics of the executive action that Obama will ultimately issue, but stressed that he will go as far as he could under existing law. And – in a response to questions from one lawmaker in the room — McDonough said Obama still plans to act regardless of the results of the November elections or even if the political narrative around the issue worsens for Democrats, people familiar with the discussion said.
Grijalva said after the meeting that he believes the scope of the action will be “significant.” The White House has considered expanding a 2012 program that halted deportations for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants, as well as easing some restrictions on legal immigration.
McDonough, accompanied by domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz and other White House officials, declined to go into details of the meeting except to underscore that Obama still plans to act.
“The president understands the depth of the broken immigration system that we have and he’s bound and determined to make sure that we fix it because it’s impacting our economy, it’s impacting our job growth and it’s a humanitarian issue that’s impacting families across the country,” he told reporters.
“So we’re going to fix it and we’ll do it before the end of the year,” McDonough added.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), the leading advocate of immigration reform on the Hill, said the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will meet early next week to determine a formal response to the White House over delaying deportation relief.
“No more excuses, I don’t care what senator is dangling in the wind, I don’t care what Republican proposal is being made,” he said. “I don’t care what happens. We are moving forward.”
“We are concerned that this is a community and these are issues that get stalled,” added Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), speaking for the Latino community. “Why are we stalling? For us, these are not political issues, these are substantive issues that move the country forward.”