White House Domestic Policy Director Cecilia Muñoz said the Administration’s proposed budget will strengthen Latino families. (Photo/Getty Images )

White House, college presidents and activists call for fast action on immigration reform

White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz answered questions – some of them tough – on the  current state of immigration policies, as well as the prospect of reform in the next few months.  “We have an extraordinary sense of urgency at the White House,” assured Muñoz, who is the Administration’s top Latina and who has worked on immigration reform throughout her career.

As part of a White House “fireside chat,” Muñoz answered questions from a small group of immigration reform advocates. “Dreamer” Cristina Jimenez, Managing Director of  United We Dream, questioned why, as the Obama administration pursue immigration reform, there is still “an extremely aggressive deportation strategy – which is tearing families apart.”   José Antonio Vargas, an undocumented journalist and creator of the Define American campaign, asked why undocumented immigrants considered “low priority” cases were still being deported as part of the record 1.5 million deportations under the Administration.

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Muñoz said that while the Department of Homeland Security has been shifting its infrastructure away from low priority cases, “the government’s job is to do what Congress tells them to do – Congress requires us to remove people who are removable, and gives DHS a lot of resources to do that job,” she said.  This seemed to be a clear reference to a Migration Policy Institute study, brought up by Jimenez, that found that the government spends more on federal immigration enforcement than all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined, to the tune of $187 billion since 1986.

“The President is absolutely aware that one of the terrible costs of the system is that families get separated,” said Muñoz.  Progressive evangelical  leader Jim Wallis asked whether there could be a stop to deportations while legislation was being pursued.  “At the end of the day, the solution to the issue of deportation is to have legislation that works and is sensible,” said Muñoz.

Voto Latino co-chair and actress America Ferrera asked Muñoz how Latinos who support immigration reform can get involved.  Muñoz said the reason there is momentum in Washington is because “the community did that – people did that.”

Regarding a timeline for reform, the White House Director said “we don’t need another 10 months of sausage making.” Muñoz said, adding it was important to “lock down legislative language quickly” to see a bill in the spring.

The issue of locking down legislative language, however, is not as simple.  Raul Labrador, a Latino Republican congressman from Idaho, said to the Associated Press that the issue of how to legalize the nation’s 11 million undocumented Latinos is not that easy.  “In the House you’re going to have a hard time finding Republicans who can support a pathway to citizenship,” Labrador said.

And as legislators maneuver and debate in Congress, a group of Florida university presidents advocated today for comprehensive immigration reform to retain foreign students who come here to study and then have to leave, as well as to be able to educate the nation’s Dreamers.

“It breaks my heart to see people – extremely bright, valedictorians – being treated as foreign students,” said Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, referring to “Dreamers” who are not eligible for in-state tuition, but according to Padrón pay 4 times the amount of tuition as out-of-state students.

“The whole idea is to be able to provide the opportunity for all students to get an education, so they can be contributors to society,” said Padrón.

While those who advocate for reform – both inside and outside the White House – want a quick timeline, the reality is sometimes much different, like political scientist and NBC Latino contributor Victoria DeFrancesco Soto states.   “By design Congress is a slow-moving vehicle,” DeFrancesco soto explains. “As such, comprehensive immigration reform faces a built-in institutional speed bump.”

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