Overhauling immigration laws is also a top priority for the fast-growing number of Asians in the U.S., who also voted overwhelmingly for Obama but make up a far smaller percentage of the electorate — 3 percent, according to exit polls from the November election.
Faith leaders, particularly evangelical Christians, have become an important voice in pressing Republicans to back new immigration laws.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference was among those who attended Friday's meeting with Obama. He said Republicans “must cross the Jordan of immigration reform” in order to regain their standing with Hispanics.
“Otherwise, they will stay in the desert of a political minority party,” he added, using Bible references to illustrate his point.
The faith leaders said they were largely in line with the president on what needs to be included in an immigration bill, particularly the need to provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. They also agree with Obama declaring the border secure should not be a precondition for starting the citizenship pathway, as the Senate group has proposed.
However, faith leaders are opposed to the president's belief that gays and lesbians should be afforded equal rights under a new immigration law. Meeting participants said they raised their concerns during the meeting, but the topic did not dominate the conversation.
Among the 14 participants in the meeting were representatives of the Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Mormon faiths.