In our opinion: An immigration opportunity

Published: Wednesday, April 16 2014 9:25 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama meets with faith leaders, including, from second from left, Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn., Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta, Ga., and Dieter Uchtdorf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in North Salt Lake City, Utah, Tuesday, April 15, 2014, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington,.

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

On Tuesday morning, President Obama met in the Oval Office with a half-dozen faith leaders to discuss immigration reform. The president and the religious leaders discussed the impact that the failure to pass immigration legislation has had on the lives of family members in their congregations and communities. And they “pledged to continue to urge Congress to act on reform as soon as possible,” according to a White House statement.

The officials included leaders from the Wesleyan Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Hispanic Christian group Esperanza, the Christian Community Development Association, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this newspaper.

Also on Tuesday, House Democrats announced a strategy to target 30 House Republicans who have expressed some degree of public support for immigration reform, such as the bipartisan Senate bill passed in June 2013. “We’ve waited for them to put something forward,” Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., said of the Democrats’ tactic urging action by the Republicans who control the House.

President Obama and the Democrats are trying to put some pressure on Republicans. We agree with them: it’s time for the House to begin considering immigration reform and to take up the Senate bill this year.

Tuesday’s developments come after a season of dissatisfaction over immigration policy.

In late January, after some fanfare, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, announced and then scrapped an encouraging series of principles for immigration reform. Republicans didn’t want to give a legislative victory to the president.

In March, Janet Murguia, head of the National Council of La Raza, criticized the Obama administration’s approach to deportation, calling the president the “deporter in chief.”

And just last week, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush expressed sympathy for the plight of undocumented immigrants. While noting that “they broke the law,” Bush said, “It’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family.”

The focus of Tuesday’s Oval Office meeting wasn’t on what the president could do by executive order but on what Congress needs to do on immigration.

“We did not bring up the issue of the president doing unilateral action,” said Luis Cortes, president of Esperanza. “We felt it was more important that Congress take action at this time.”

"I'm convinced the people of the United States are willing and want a solution," said Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, after the meeting. Speaking of Congress, he said, "we hope they are mindful of Christian values and don't block those values because different political sides cannot agree on a solution that would bless so many families, individuals and the entire country."

Added Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, after the meeting, “I disagree with the president on many things, including life, marriage, religious liberty, (the Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive) mandate; this is one of those issues that isn’t a red state, blue state divide.”

Or, as we editorialized in February 2014, “Immigration reform is a matter of compassion. It is the right thing to do for U.S. citizens and for those law-abiding individuals who wish to be citizens. And for the millions of hard-working people whose lives are in limbo, reform of the nation’s immigration laws are needed now, not in a political campaign cycle that is convenient for Republicans.”

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