(WASHINGTON) — A group of seven young people shared their personal struggles with the immigration system during a meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden on Tuesday.
While senators continued to haggle over the details of a bipartisan immigration bill on Capitol Hill, Obama and Biden shied away from policy specifics during a nearly hour-long talk in the Oval Office. Instead, they heard personal appeals for a complete overhaul of the system.
“[We] told just a few of the millions of personal stories that are the real moral, political case for immigration reform,” Melissa McGuire-Maniau, an Air Force veteran from Florida who participated in the meeting, told reporters.
Until recently, McGuire-Maniau’s husband was undocumented and she said that, despite her military service, she “never really had to face fear until ICE came repeatedly to our home attempting to deport my husband.”
He recently became a legal resident of the U.S., according to the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), the organization that helped assemble the meeting.
Participating in the meeting were two recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and five people who have legal status, but have either parents, spouses or siblings who are undocumented. The White House reached out to FIRM last week to put together the meeting, according to organizers.
Obama has received pressure from immigrant-rights groups and Latino organizations over some of the key details of the immigration bill, such as the length of time and eligibility requirements for the pathway to citizenship. Activists have also called on the president to halt deportations for those who are eligible for legalization under the Senate’s plan, a plea that Obama has rejected.
But organizers said that none of those potential points of conflict came up during the Tuesday afternoon meeting.
“We didn’t have that conversation, we shared stories and we sat on couches,” said Kate Kahan, the legislative director for the Center for Community Change, who was present at the meeting. “It was really about exchanging stories, and the president and vice president listening to those stories.”
Obama did say that passing the bill through Congress would be a “challenge,” according to Kahan, but added that having immigrants speaking out about their personal stories helps.
Two of the immigrants who met with Obama and Biden said both were “visibly moved” by their stories. One of them was Mehdi Mahraoui, 22, a legal permanent resident from New York City.
Mahraoui’s parents and oldest sister are currently in deportation proceedings, but another sister is a U.S. citizen.
“I can see in his eyes he felt our pain,” Mahraoui told ABC/Univision.
“I am confident the bill is going to be passed because of the simple fact that people like me are at the front line of the debate,” he continued. “Instead of looking at looking at the policies and the numbers, they are looking at people’s stories and how it’s impacting families.”
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