Barack Obama talks with Asian-American leaders



Washington: Ahead of a senate panel hearing on a comprehensive immigration bill, US President Barack Obama and his senior staff met with top Asian-American leaders for what participants called a "meaningful" discussion on immigration, health care and civil rights.

The sit-down with Obama on Wednesday, which came amid Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, was the first time that the President met with top officials from the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, Politico, an influential Washington newspaper focusing on politics reported.

"The meeting was very productive," Deepa Iyer, the chairperson of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans and the executive director of the South Asian Americans Leading Together was quoted as saying.

"I think it really speaks to a recognition of the growing power of our community in the country, we've been able to galvanise a strong political base."

Much of the conversation centred on the comprehensive immigration reform starting to make its way through Congress. In particular, the AAPI leaders zeroed on family reunification measures that are critical to immigrant communities, Politico reported

The bipartisan legislation crafted by the Senate Gang of Eight - four Democrats and four Republicans - veers away from family-based immigration toward merit-based immigration. For example, it would eliminate the ability for US citizens to sponsor foreign siblings for green cards.

Iyer said she and other AAPI leaders expressed concerns that family-based immigration measures would be restricted or eliminated during the legislative process.

"He listened to what we had to say; he was very candid with us," Iyer was quoted as saying.

The White House said in a statement: "The president emphasised that commonsense immigration reform continues to be a top legislative priority and that he looks forward to working with the AAPI community to achieve that goal."

The AAPI leaders also discussed immigrants' access to health care, and pressed Obama and administration officials on administrative measures they could take on certain issues, such as an interagency task force focusing on hate crimes, Politico said.

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said his panel will begin Thursday's opening session on the immigration package with consideration of a "trigger" that must be met before any undocumented immigrants can seek legal status, to be followed by debate over proposals to improve border security.

Leahy told Politico that the trigger provision - a series of border security benchmarks that must be met before the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants, including some 260,000 Indian can apply for legal status - is likely to be one the most contentious issues in the whole immigration fight.

IANS