Immigration reform is waiting quietly in the wings.
President Barack Obama promised top Latino leaders on a conference call Tuesday afternoon that once a deal is reached on the fiscal cliff, the focus of the call, he'll throw the full force of the White House behind overhauling the country's immigration laws.
Top Obama aides are already laying the groundwork for a campaign-style operation to broaden the base of support for a mega-bill.
The White House will not only target Latino voters but also religious leaders, law enforcement and others, according to sources familiar with the administration's thinking. Officials have met in recent weeks with prominent Hispanic activists like Henry Mu
Latino leaders say the activity is a clear sign that Obama plans to keep his word and make immigration a signature policy of his second term -- an unsurprising move after the Hispanic vote turned out in record numbers to propel the president to victory this fall.
"There's a strong commitment on immigration reform, but it is contingent on getting some stability around the fiscal cliff. He's made that pretty clear," National Council of La Raza President Janet Murgua told POLITICO. "If they have a deal that has some rationale around a two-step process or whatever, there is a genuine sense we'll see this issue queued up and that they'll put the force of the White House behind this."
Murgua said Obama also addressed the issue a week after the election in a private meeting with civil rights leaders.
Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, agreed.
"He did mention [comprehensive immigration reform]. As soon as he can get the fiscal cliff issues taken care of, he's committed to doing it," Wilkes said of Obama's comments on the call. Wilkes also said he believes Obama is going to be more interested in getting a law passed now that he isn't running for office.
"What he chose to focus on in his first term were things that benefit all Americans universally and he didn't really get to things like immigration reform that benefits a specific cohort of Americans. Now that he's free from having to run again, he's going to be worried about trying to do things like immigration reform that he really believes in," Wilkes said.
But Murgua said the difference now is that Mu
A White House official said that while Obama has said on a number of occasions that immigration reform is a priority, he is focused on the fiscal debate.
"On Tuesday, he participated in a conference call with Hispanic grass-roots and community leaders from across the country to reiterate the need for the American people to tell their stories about what $2,000 would mean to them in the context of the fiscal cliff," the official said. "As you know, 99 percent of Hispanic-American families are among the 98 percent that would see their taxes go up if Congress fails to act, so it is vital that they raise their voices and participate in this incredibly important debate."
As the White House prepares to dial in on the issue, congressional lawmakers of the so-called Gang of Eight on immigration have also begun meeting. The group, which includes key players on immigration reform -- Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) -- is hoping to put forward principles on immigration early next year and put out legislation by March with the hope of final passage by June, according to several sources.
Immigration proponents believe the contours of legislation are already known and filling in the details is what congressional leaders must do.
Even with renewed interest in comprehensive reform across the Capitol, a bill will still have to clear the high hurdle of a Republican-controlled House and immigration proponents are determined that a package includes a path toward citizenship, which could be a tough sell.
As activity has begun in earnest on Capitol Hill and in the West Wing, outside Latino groups are also intensifying their efforts. Latino supporters of Obama are also looking to capitalize on the upcoming inaugural as a way to keep momentum in their favor.
"A coalition of National Latino Organizations, business and civic leaders are organizing key Latino Inaugural events to celebrate our victory in shaping American politics," an executive summary circulating downtown states. The festivities include a policy symposium, salon dinner with members of Congress, brunch with Latino U.S. senators and an event produced by actress Eva Longoria, among others at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, Jan. 20. Top tier sponsorships run $200,000.
Longoria, Andres Lopez and Henry Mu
In the meantime, several Latino groups are looking to capitalize on the strides the groups made in the 2012 election.
Leaders from the Hispanic Federation, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, LULAC, Mi Familia Vota, NALEO Education Fund, NCLR, Service Employees International Union and Voto Latino briefed the media Wednesday morning on their plans to keep the pressure on Congress and the White House to take action on immigration reform.
"Failure is not an option for the Congress," SEIU's Eliseo Medina said.
The groups unveiled several different initiatives, including a scorecard for lawmakers on immigration reform and continuing to sign up voters.
Wilkes said the group is doing Capitol Hill visits, having members write their lawmakers and also has launched a postcard campaign for supporters to send postcards to their members of Congress that mimic the "I voted" stickers and include for immigration reform.
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