Immigration Reform Meeting Postponed to Sharp Criticism From Advocates

A meeting among President Barack Obama and Sens. Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) on immigration reform, scheduled to take place Monday, has been postponed due to a canceled flight from South Carolina – Senator Graham’s.

The meeting, intended to make a plan for introducing bipartisan immigration legislation this spring, was the second one canceled since reform came on the table formally at a White House summit hosted by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in August 2009.

The push for reform by the Obama administration, which promised it would deal with the issue in its first year in office, also takes place just weeks before a planned march on Washington for March 21, intended to raise the pressure for legislative action on immigration.

“People are suffering. Millions and millions of people cannot drive, cannot go to school, live in fear,” Dae Joong Yoon, the executive director of the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles, said of the stall in immigration reform. “In 2008 many of our community members voted for change…. We’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting. But since then our president, our Congress members, have been in a deep sleep. So now we’re saying, ‘We can’t take it anymore! Wake up! Do something!'”

The proposed bill would include a path toward citizenship for the more than ten million undocumented people living in the United States. It would also require undocumented workers to register, pay taxes and pay a penalty if they break the law – if they fail to follow these strictures, they face deportation.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Schumer has also disclosed a plan to include a proposal for a new national identity card in the bill. This would be mandatory for all workers, regardless of their citizenship status, and would contain biometric information such as fingerprint details. Schumer hopes this would discourage further unauthorized immigration.

However, some Democrats are wary of plunging into new legislation while the health care debate is still unresolved.

“Right now we have a little problem with the ‘Chicken Little’ mentality: The sky is falling and consequently we can’t do anything,” Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Arizona) said.

Schumer said getting the bill off the ground depends on getting another Republican sponsor, a task that has been trying so far.

“We’re very hopeful we can get a bill done. We have all the pieces in place. We just need a second Republican,” said Schumer, who met with Napolitano Thursday to speak about possible GOP co-sponsors. “It’s tough finding someone, but we’re trying.”

Immigrant rights activists fear that if a proposal is not moved by April or early May, it will not have a realistic chance of passing as the focus will shift to the November elections instead.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said this view may be short-sighted. “A legislative show is not going to be acceptable,” he said. “The necessity here is a bipartisan piece of legislation that gets to the Senate floor, and that will be the marker that immigrant voters and others will use in November 2010 and November 2012 and beyond.”

Obama campaigned on the promise to be “a president who isn’t going to walk away from something as important as comprehensive immigration reform when it becomes politically unpopular,” and said he would “rise above fear, the demagoguery, the pettiness, the partisanship, and finally enact comprehensive immigration reform … In this country, change does not come from the top down. Change comes from the bottom up.”

Nick Shapiro, a White House spokesman, said, “The president’s commitment to fixing our broken immigration system remains unwavering.”

However, for many Latino activists, they see a different side. “Our community is angry,” said Brent Wilkes from the League of United Latin American Citizens of the figures recently released by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, showing more deportations during Obama’s first year in the White House – 387,790 – than during George W. Bush’s last year in office – 264, 503. “Our members feel betrayed.”