WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will act on his own by year's end to remake the nation's fractured immigration system, and he will go as far as he can under the law, the White House chief of staff told frustrated Latino lawmakers Thursday.
Chief of staff Denis McDonough made the commitments in a closed-door meeting at the Capitol with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Like other Latinos and immigrants rights' activists the lawmakers were fuming over Obama's decision Saturday, made under pressure from endangered Senate Democrats, to put off promised executive action on immigration until after November's midterm elections.
In Thursday's meeting, according to lawmakers who attended, McDonough heard out their concerns and renewed the president's commitment to act — pledging under lawmakers' questions that it would happen even if Democrats lose the Senate, the political environment turns worse and Obama once again faces calls to put off his decision.
"We told him we were mad, we thought for sure he was going to act because he said he would, we're very upset about that," said Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif. "At the same time we got the promise that he's going to act as generously as he possibly can before the end of the holiday season."
McDonough told reporters, "It was good to catch up with the caucus and underscore to them our continuing commitment to resolve the challenges with our broken immigration system and underscore to them that the president will act on this before the end of the year."
Obama earlier this year promised that, given congressional inaction on comprehensive immigration legislation, he would act on his own by the end of the summer. That could include protecting millions of immigrants in this country illegally from deportation, and granting them work permits allowing them to work legally in this country. Such action would be an expansion of a program Obama created two years ago for immigrants brought here illegally as youths.
The administration is also weighing steps that could make more visas available for the business community.
The exact contours of the plans are unclear, but in light of the White House's decision to delay, Obama is facing pressure to take even broader steps on his own than he had been weighing. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., pressed McDonough about that, and the response was that Obama would go as far as he legally can, lawmakers said.
The result will be action "of significant scope," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.
"No more excuses. I don't care what senator is dangling in the wind, I don't care what Republican proposal is being put forward, I don't care what happens, we are moving forward," Gutierrez said. "The holiday season must be a season of blessings for millions of undocumented families across America."
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