(WNS)–Fourteen faith leaders stressed the importance of continuing family reunification policies as part of immigration reform in a Friday meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House.
Obama met for more than an hour with the leaders, each of whom had an opportunity to address the group. Two of the leaders who spoke with me over the weekend said they were encouraged by the president’s resolve to find a solution to the broken immigration system.
“It was a very positive meeting,” said Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention. “All of the major principles of immigration reform the president is talking about are the same ones we’ve been talking about for a couple of years.”
Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said after the meeting he felt more optimistic than he has ever been about immigration reform. “I left completely invigorated,” he said.
Obama laid out his plan for immigration reform on Jan. 29, a day after a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators released their framework for reform. Obama’s proposal focused mostly on border security measures and a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. He did not include language supporting a guest worker program, but Rodriguez said the president is giving “creative space” to senators who he said are “making good progress.”
The 14 faith leaders expressed to Obama their support for a pathway to citizenship, strong border security, and a vibrant guest worker program. They also spent time discussing the importance of family reunification policies—which have come under fire during reform talks since immigrants with family priority take up two-thirds of all legal immigration.
“While they may focus on the economic side, we want to remind both [parties] the family reunification component is equally important,” Rodriguez said. “My concern as a pastor is that we not go from two-thirds to nothing.”
Although much agreement exists between the political parties on immigration reform, Duke and Rodriguez both acknowledged the many remaining details that need to be discussed. Obama’s plan calls for inclusion of same-sex couples in the future family reunification policy, an issue Duke said belongs in the country’s marriage debate, not immigration reform. He believes it will not be included in a final bill, but added, “If it did, we would have to oppose it.”
Talks on immigration reform have gained momentum since the November election, when Hispanic voters broke heavily for Democrats. Rodriguez said if a reform bill doesn’t pass by June, he doesn’t think it will happen before the 2014 mid-term elections.
Duke and Rodriguez said despite the diverse faiths represented—including Christian, Jewish, and Islamic—the leaders were in agreement in their support for comprehensive immigration reform.