March 8th, 2013
03:22 PM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama emphasized the need to get immigration reform accomplished this year in a meeting with a diverse group of faith leaders at the White House on Friday.
Religious leaders that attended the meeting said the president spent more than an hour with them, and after making a few remarks at the top of the meeting he let each group discuss their priorities and problems with comprehensive immigration reform. During the discussion, these faith leaders said, Obama made it clear that he wanted to see a bill on immigration reform in the next 60 days.
“I really sensed that this is a high priority for him,” Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a Christian social justice group, told CNN. “We are all looking at something being introduced this month and then the bill passing in May or June. We are all hoping that kind of time frame could work.”
Since winning reelection in 2012, the Obama administration has made it clear that immigration reform is a top priority for the president’s second term – and something they want to see quick action on. According to people who attended the meeting, in attendance, the president reiterated that support and laid out a timetable for the religious leaders.
Wallis, who has spearheaded a group of evangelical leaders on immigration reform, said that Obama particularly mentioned the importance of faith leaders in the immigration debate.
“He said that while every issue has politics, but on this question, it really was am moral issue to him and he sees the faith community as lifting that up,” Wallis said. “He was really fervent about the role of faith in this debate.”
“This was the broadest, most well-rounded group of folks that I have ever met with on this issue,” said Stephan Bauman, the president of World Relief. “And pretty much everyone in the room had a chance to share their opinion on the issue.”
In addition to Wallis and Bauman, both evangelical leaders, representatives from the Jewish, Muslim, Mormon and Catholic faiths were in attendance.
Bauman and Wallis said this was not only a religiously diverse group, but also politically diverse. The Christian leaders said that politically, the group represented both liberal and conservative political traditions. “This was not a bunch of left-leaning religious groups,” Wallis said.
A source who attended the meeting provided the full list of attendees to CNN:
Leith Anderson, National Association of Evangelicals
In a statement about the meeting, the White House thanked the religious leaders for their attendance and said the group talked about how they could work to "swiftly pass... a commonsense immigration reform bill."
"The President and the leaders discussed the pillars the President has put forward for reform, including that any bill must include a pathway to earned citizenship, as well as measures to crack down on employers who game the system and exploit both American and immigrant workers, continuing to strengthen our border security, and strengthening the legal immigration system for families, employers, and workers," the statement said.
At the end of the meeting, the group offered a prayer, according to the White House.
Some faith leaders have long called for comprehensive immigration reform, but demand for reform has increased in the last few months.
“I think we have a window of opportunity in these first months of 2013,” Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told CNN in January. “I think there is a real, new conversation on immigration reform.”
That window, Land acknowledged, is small and could close at any point. Congress has a number of issues to deal with in the coming year; Republican members of Congress hope to focus on government spending and the debt, while the White House is likely to push for gun control early in the president’s second term.
“I am hopeful that Congress can walk and chew gum and the same time,” Land said. “I am hopeful they can deal with more than one issue at the same time.”
In January, Land and a large group of other evangelical leaders took a big step towards pushing immigration reform by launching Evangelical Immigration Table, a group dedicated to making immigration reform a reality in 2013.
The group released an open letter to Congress and the White House. In it, they pressed Congress to respect “the God-given dignity of every person” and establish a “path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and wish to become permanent residents.” In addition to meeting with Obama, Wallis tells CNN that over the last few months, the group has met with both Democratic and Republican leadership in the House and Senate, “from Chuck Schumer to Lindsey Graham.”
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.