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Obama defends immigration record, curious about Chicago casino during Rich Daley, Danny Solis WH visit

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WASHINGTON -- When President Barack Obama dropped in at Chief of Staff Bill Daley's office on Friday, the conversation with visiting Chicagoans -- including former Mayor Richard Daley and his son, Patrick -- turned to how Mayor Rahm Emanuel was doing, why Chicago doesn't have casino gambling and Obama's own immigration record.

That's the report I got from Ald. Danny Solis (25th), whom I ran into on Pennsylvania Avenue as he was leaving the White House on Friday with City Colleges of Chicago board chair and Cabrera Capital Markets CEO Martin Cabrera Jr., Evans Food Group CEO Alejandro Silva and United Neighborhood Organization CEO Juan Rangel.

I've been fascinated with the interlocking relationships among Chicagoans in the Obama White House since the beginning, which was made even more interesting when Bill Daley later took over from Emanuel as chief of staff. Solis has distinct and separate ties to the Daley brothers as a Chicago alderman and to Obama, whom he met when they were both young community organizers in Chicago.

Obama was curious, Solis said, "how the new mayor, Rahm, was doing."

Prompted by the question, Solis brought Obama up to date on two stories that have been making headlines in Chicago: Emanuel's battle with the Chicago Teachers Union to extend the school day, and his pressure on Gov. Pat Quinn for a casino in Chicago, made more urgent since a casino opened in suburban Des Plaines in July.

"Obama could never under- stand why Indiana and the other states" had casinos and Chicago did not, Solis said.

One thing, I guess, led to another and Obama offered up, Solis said, that his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, "goes once or twice a year to Vegas and really enjoys it."

Solis and Obama met in the 1980s when Solis worked for UNO and Obama for The Developing Communities Project, both part of the Chicago-based Gamaliel Foundation network. "We used to go to the same trainings together," Solis told me.

There is also another connection. Patti, Solis' sister -- who managed Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign until she was jettisoned -- ended up in the Obama 2008 headquarters in Chicago as chief of staff for vice presidential running mate Joe Biden.

The talk in Bill Daley's office turned to immigration issues, and Solis said Obama faced some difficulty in the Hispanic community. That message is not news to Obama, whose administration has been stepping up Hispanic outreach across the nation this past year.

"We talked about the way deportations increased" on Obama's watch, Solis said.

The swelling numbers of deportees has fueled an outcry from immigrants rights activists -- and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) -- who did not expect that to happen while Obama was president.

The Obama administration addressed the controversy on Aug. 18 with a new policy that could save thousands of people from deportation and virtually stop deporting students who are the children of illegal immigrants.

Obama disagreed with the way Solis framed the deportation issue.

"He clarified a very important point," Solis said.

While deportations are up, Obama emphasized that about "60 percent" of them took place at the border, which "shows enforcement [is] working," Solis said Obama told them.

"I told him that had to be clarified in the message [that the] majority of people are caught at the border," Solis said.

The Chicagoans were in town for a dinner honoring the former mayor on Thursday night, hosted by Mexico's Ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan.

Sarukhan met with Daley in September 2009, when he was in Chicago. When I interviewed Sarukhan in April of last year, in advance of First Lady Michelle's trip to Mexico City, he recalled his Chicago tour and his interest in a city with such an enormous Mexican-American community.

Bill Daley joined the dinner honoring his brother after Obama delivered his jobs speech before a joint session of Congress Thursday night. Solis said Mayor Daley suggested the White House visit Friday.

It was "a good friendly meeting among people who have known each other for a very long time," Solis said.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on September 11, 2011 2:42 PM.

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