Obama Pressed from Left on Immigration

By Teddy Davis

Apr 17, 2009 5:49pm

ABC News’ Teddy Davis reports: President Barack Obama’s trip this week to Mexico and the Caribbean are intended to underscore his commitment to Latinos in the United States. But if you talk to Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., the first Hispanic member of Congress to endorse Obama, the president still needs to convince him that he is committed to speedy action on comprehensive immigration reform. "The Hispanic Congressional Caucus asked for a meeting with the president and after six weeks we got one," Gutierrez told ABC News, referring to a meeting which took place at the White House on March 18. "And I still remember the last words from President Obama as we walked out: ‘Don’t oversell it.’" "If you and I met and you asked me for something and you were going out to talk to the press and those were my last words to you, how confident would you feel?" asked Gutierrez. Gutierrez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, spoke with ABC News by phone while on the 18th in a series of trips around the country to build support for immigration reform. He holds his meetings in churches, both Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant. His Friday event, which is being held in Salinas, Calif., is geared towards the state’s agricultural farm workers. All the events, which feature personal accounts from Hispanics who are losing relatives to deportation, are organized around the theme of family unity. "Mothers and fathers are losing their wives or their husbands. Children are losing their parents. Grandparents are losing their grandchildren. Brothers and sisters are being divided," said Gutierrez. "We have soldiers that have gone to Iraq whose wives have been under orders to be deported from this country," he added. "Our system is broken and this is our civil rights issue." Asked how he would overcome opposition from lawmakers who worry about rewarding illegal behavior, Gutierrez said that the United States does not have the resources nor the will for a mass deportation. "It’s impossible to deport 12 million people and their millions of American siblings," said Gutierrez. "It is not going to happen." Gutierrez was pleased to see Obama administration officials tell The New York Times on April 8 that the president plans to speak publicly about immigration reform in May before convening working groups on the issue this summer and discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall. According to Gutierrez, the timeline was "in sync" with what the president said during his meeting with Hispanic lawmakers in March. But Gutierrez is not taking anything for granted. "I’ve seen a lot of balloons float only to be shot down and nothing comes of them," said Gutierrez. While many members of Congress are afraid to challenge a popular president of their own party, Gutierrez said he is going to continue to pressure the president. "I’ve already flown on Air Force One, it was nice. I’ve been to a state dinner, it was wonderful," said Gutierrez. "But I would rather have comprehensive immigration reform." "If we don’t speak to it, it will not be on the agenda," he added. ABC News’ Ferdous Al-Faruque contributed to this report.

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