President Obama on Thursday finally held a twice-delayed meeting with members of Congress to discuss immigration reform -- a goal the Obama administration claims to fully support but will keep on the backburner until it becomes more politically feasible. In the meantime, the president announced, the White House is implementing administrative changes that are meant to improve the country's immigration system.
After the meeting, Mr. Obama said immigration reform is "one of the most critical issues that I think this nation faces." Still, he added, "there is not by any means consensus across the table." (Watch a video of the president's remarks here.)
The White House said in a release the meeting aimed to "launch a policy conversation by having an honest discussion about the issues and identifying areas of agreement and areas where we still have work to do, with the hope of beginning the debate in earnest later this year."
The president restated his goals for immigration reform, which he laid out at the Esperanza National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast last week.
"The American people still want to see a solution in which we are tightening up our borders, (and) we're cracking down on employers who are using illegal workers in order to drive down wages," he said. "And we need an effective way to recognize and legalize the status of undocumented workers who are here."
Those goals will be hard to achieve, though. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said today that "the votes aren't there" for immigration reform, the LA Times reported.
"If the votes were there, you wouldn't need to have the meeting," Emanuel reportedly said. "You'd go to a roll call [vote]."
Mr. Obama announced today, however, improvements to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office (USCIS). The office will collaborate with Mr. Obama's chief information officer, chief performance officer and chief technologies officer to make the agency more efficient, more transparent and more user-friendly. USCIS will also launch in the next 90 days a new Web site that will, for the first time ever, allow applicants to get updates on their status of their applications via e-mail and text message and online.
"It's an example of some things that we can do administratively even as we're working through difficult issues surrounding comprehensive immigration," the president said.
Mr. Obama also announced U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will lead a group that will work with Congress to systematically work through immigration issues.
"I am confident that if we enter into this with the notion that this is a nation of laws that have to be observed and this is a nation of immigrants," he said, "then we're going to create a stronger nation for our children and our grandchildren."