- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009

President Obama’s nomination of a Hispanic woman to the Supreme Court does not give him extra breathing space to put off a contentious fight on immigration, Hispanic groups and immigrant-rights advocates said Wednesday.

“They operate on parallel tracks, separate tracks,” said John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress, as he joined nearly a dozen other leaders of a coalition that is trying to lay the groundwork so Mr. Obama can tackle immigration this year.

After Mr. Obama nominated federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, political pundits said her selection - she would be the first Hispanic justice - would buy the president enough good will among Hispanic voters that he might be able to go slower in pushing for immigration.

But Mr. Podesta said the White House doesn’t see her nomination as a stalling tactic on immigration.


“I don’t think that’s the way the president thinks. I think that he picked the person he thought would best serve on the Supreme Court,” Mr. Podesta said.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, Mr. Podesta and leaders from civil rights, labor, agriculture and religious groups said the political climate has changed on immigration over the past two years. They expect Mr. Obama to make good on his campaign promises to push for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system this year.

They said that must include legalizing illegal immigrants, extending due-process rights to immigrants and increasing enforcement at the borders and against employers who hire illegal immigrants.

“A promise is a promise, and he made a commitment to move forward with immigration reform, and we’re going to help him keep that promise,” said Janet Murguia, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza.

Immigration bills failed in 2006 and 2007 despite having the support of President George W. Bush, though Democrats say the politics of the issue have changed since the 2008 election.

Already, action is heating up in Congress, where the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would allow same-sex partners the same immigration rights as married couples. And on Thursday, Rep. Michael M. Honda, California Democrat, will introduce a bill to expand opportunities for immigrants to bring their family to the United States, including for same-sex partners.

Mr. Obama also isn’t resting. On Wednesday, his Justice Department announced that immigrants facing deportation have a right to appeal their cases on the grounds of having received poor legal representation, suspending a ruling from the Bush administration’s Justice Department that said immigrants had no such claim.

Still, the president has backed off his campaign promise to have a bill done this year. Instead, he now says his goal is to begin work on a bill and to advance the debate, adding that his administration must prove the borders can be secure before illegal immigrants can be legalized.

“If the American people don’t feel like you can secure the borders,” Mr. Obama said in an April news conference, “then it’s hard to strike a deal that would get people out of the shadows and on a pathway to citizenship who are already here, because the attitude of the average American is going to be, ‘Well, you’re just going to have hundreds of thousands of more coming in each year.’ ”