Washington (CNN) - In a private meeting with Hispanic Republican activists last week, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele called for a comprehensive immigration policy that puts families first – a stance at odds with some conservatives in his party who see border security and enforcement as top priorities.
Steele also said Republican leaders are sensitive to “the perception of racism in law” following the signing of a tough new immigration bill in Arizona.
The RNC chairman made the comments in Washington on Friday, shortly after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer enacted the controversial law, which requires police to question people suspected of being in the country illegally. Critics of the law argue that it will lead to racial profiling and civil rights violations.
An activist present at the meeting recorded a video clip of the party chairman’s speech and showed it to CNN.
“If we want to have a comprehensive policy that is uniform around the nation, then the federal government has got to step up,” Steele told the activists. “I look forward to our Republican leadership putting on the table good solid efforts to create the kind of reform that takes in mind first and foremost the family, that recognizes that this is not a nameless composition.
“That there are moms and dads, grandmas and granddads, and children, generations, that are affected by the decisions that are made in Washington D.C.,” he continued. “So my promise is to make sure that that the family is the focus as well. Not the just the statistics that show up on paper.”
Congress needs to realize that immigration policies crafted in Washington have a real world impact on families and workers “trying to pursue a dream,” he said.
The outreach session between RNC officials and Hispanic GOP activists had been previously scheduled, but happened to fall on the same day Brewer announced her support for the Arizona immigration bill. According to the person in the room, the activists were shocked upon learning that Brewer had enacted the law.
Steele spoke to the group moments later and addressed their concerns.
Though he did not go into much detail about the Arizona bill in the video clip, Steele said Hispanics are right to be worried about the potential for racial profiling.
“As someone who has been the victim of racial profiling, there must be a necessary sensitivity to that issue,” he said. “And understanding that any perception of racism in law becomes racism in fact for the individual who is the subject of that law. And so that is an important aspect of this law as well that I know our leadership is very, very sensitive to.”
Steele said the Obama administration is more interested in “playing politics” with immigration policy, and suggested that GOP ideas for immigration reform are coming soon. “I think that you will see and hear something very different in the weeks ahead that will you show you where we stand with Hispanics in the country,” he said.
Asked about the video, a spokesman for the RNC sought to clarify Steele’s comments.
“Chairman Steele has consistently supported immigration legislation that focused on doing the basics first - namely, securing our borders, protecting our economy and treating people with human dignity,” RNC spokesman Doug Heye told CNN on Monday.
Heye said Steele “agrees with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer that we must take strong stand against both illegal immigration and racial profiling. Doing so will help ensure that any policies we make are implemented in a fashion that reflects our American values.”
“Any federal legislation is going to be complex and go through many changes,” he added. “Our Republican leaders are very focused on making sure any legislation have elements that protect both our American values and honors families.”