WASHINGTON, April 19, 2011 (AFP) – President Barack Obama held talks Tuesday with former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, among others, on US immigration reform, and urged a fresh push for legislation.
Obama made clear “the only way to fix what’s broken about our immigration system is through legislative action in Congress,” the White House said in a statement on the meeting, noting that reform “both strengthens security at our borders while restoring accountability to the broken immigration system.”
The US leader meanwhile expressed “deep disappointment” at the stalling of the DREAM Act in the US Senate after passing in the House of Representatives in December.
Obama “pointed out that perpetuating a broken immigration system is not an option if America is to win the future,” said the White House.
Former New York and Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton, who attended the meeting along with a number of representatives of the business, law enforcement, faith communities as well as former and current elected leaders, said Obama had called on them to help push for movement on the issue.
He “asked the group to commit to moving forward to keep the debate about this issue alive, to keep it alive in the sense that it can get before Congress where an ultimate resolution of it will have to be obtained,” Bratton said.
The meeting came amid worries about violence along the US border with Mexico and concerns over stubbornly high US unemployment.
The president is not going to “let this issue go away, he has no plans to let the last vote on the DREAM Act be the final words on immigration and his country, and that this is a critical part of the American story,” added Los Angeles councilman Eric Garcetti who also attended the meeting.
Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and Bloomberg — a Republican who left the party ahead of the 2008 presidential election — was joined by Texas Mayor Julian Castro and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey among others.
Obama had vowed during his 2008 run for the White House to pursue a comprehensive overhaul of US immigration, at a time when an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants lived in the United States.
The effort — which appealed to US Hispanics, now the largest US minority group — fell apart in the US Congress, and the president blamed his Republican foes.
Leading Democratic senators recently urged Obama to use his presidential powers to focus immigration enforcement resources away from deporting some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
The lawmakers singled out those would qualify under the stalled DREAM Act that clears a path to legal permanent status for those who arrived when they were 15 or younger, have lived on US soil for at least five years, graduated from high school, have no criminal record, and have completed two years of college or service in the US armed forces.