President Barack Obama is trying to rally business support for his immigration proposals at a White House meeting today with a dozen chief executive officers, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS)’s Lloyd Blankfein and Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO)’s Marissa Mayer.
Obama is pressuring Congress to act by mid-year on comprehensive immigration legislation that would include a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.
“I couldn’t think of a better topic that will galvanize a lot of the resources necessary in the country to improve the competitive effectiveness of U.S. business,” Motorola Solutions Inc. Chief Executive Officer Greg Brown said as he headed into the meeting.
Obama also is lobbying for the support of unions and Democratic-leaning activist groups, telling them in a meeting this morning that rewriting immigration law is his top legislative priority for the next few months.
“We are all on the same page,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation. He is working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to find common ground on the issue.
In a sign of the hurdles to passage of a new law, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee warned today against a “rush to judgment” on the issue, saying that there are lots of questions about how a legalization program would work.
“Are there options we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and the path to citizenship for those not lawfully present in the United States,” asked Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.
His question underscored the philosophical differences between the parties on immigration, particularly when it comes to granting citizenship to those in the country illegally.
Legislative principals released by a bipartisan group of Senators last month attempted to bridge the divide by making the legalization process for undocumented workers contingent on tightening border security and better tracking of people in the U.S. on visas. A commission of governors, community members, and attorneys general from Southwest border states would make a recommendation when the security measures are completed.
Proposals released by the White House don’t link citizenship to border security. Administration officials have said they are concerned that a longer process may make it effectively impossible for those immigrants to get legal status.
In his morning meeting, Obama told advocates he wouldn’t accept a “contingent, conditional” path to citizenship, said Marshall Fitz, of the Center for American Progress, a Democratic policy research group in Washington.
Hispanic organizations, labor unions, civil rights groups and other advocates are planning a lobbying push on immigration, culminating in a national rally on April 10 in Washington.
“We’re going to focus like a laser beam on the path to citizenship,” said Fitz. “It is unconditional.”
Advocates for immigrants said the November presidential election empowered them to push for granting citizenship for undocumented U.S. residents after Hispanics gave Obama more than 70 percent of their votes, helping him win re-election.
“We turned a corner after the November elections and we are building from a position of strength,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza.
The meeting with business leaders is scheduled for 3:20 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. The other CEOs include Revolution LLC’s Steve Case, Joe Echevarria of Deloitte LLP, Qualcomm Inc.’s Paul Jacobs, Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola Co., Alcoa Inc.’s Klaus Kleinfeld, Impremedia LLC’s Monica Lozano, Cargill Corp.’s Greg Page, Jeff Smisek of United Continental Holdings Inc. and Arne Sorenson of Marriott International Inc.
The scope of Obama’s win among the fast-growing Latino community has prompted some Republican leaders to say that softening the party’s stance on immigration issues is essential to their political survival.
In a speech today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, praised congressional efforts to draft immigration legislation, singling out proposals to grant a special legal pathway to citizenship for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
“One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents,” Cantor said, in remarks at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington group that favors smaller government.