White House Walking Softly on Immigration

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The White House is backing away from today’s New York Time’s front-page story checking in on immigration—the hot button issue in 2006 and 2007. The story pretty much ruined Nick Shapiro’s day; Shapiro, one of a bevy of White House spokesmen who divvy up issues, has the up-until-today easy task of dealing with immigration press requests. “This isn’t news,” Shapiro lamented to me on the phone. “The President has consistently said that he wants to start the discussion later this year, because our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. But the economy comes first, that’s why we’re so deeply engaged in that now—we will start an immigration discussion later in the year.”

The story lit a fire under immigration groups who sent out gleeful e-mails. “We applaud the White House, Senator Harry Reid, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi for their vision, leadership, and commitment to passing comprehensive and meaningful immigration reform this year,” crowed Angela Kelley, director of the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) in a press release. Added Hector Figueroa, Secretary Treasurer of the SEIU’s 32BJ union: “The Obama administration’s intention to begin addressing immigration reform this year is a solid first step. Hardworking Americans, regardless of their immigration status, deserve jobs with good wages and benefits that can support a family -and we see comprehensive immigration reform as a way toward achieving this goal.”

Unfortunately for them, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in the briefing just reiterated Shapiro’s laments: “That story could have been written a year ago based off of what he’s said on the campaign trail… I don’t think [Obama] thinks it could be done this year.”