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Obama Immigration Speech: Policy or Politics?

4 years ago
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On Thursday, President Obama is to take the stage at Washington, D.C.'s American University to make the case for comprehensive immigration reform. The issue has raised temperatures across the country, dividing those calling for tough border protection and rigid policing of illegal immigrants from those who favor less punitive measures and broader integration.

Perhaps nowhere is this schism more evident than in Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer recently signed into law a controversial measure that gives law enforcement officials unprecedented authority to question anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. But as incendiary as the law is -- and as much it can make both supporters and detractors equally red-faced (crimson, even!) -- the question remains: Does the White House really think it can get an immigration reform bill through Congress this year?

Though reform has enjoyed bipartisan support in previous years, the two principal GOP shepherds on the issue, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- are nowhere to be seen. The issue has been particularly tricky for Republicans wanting to appear tough on national security, but likewise in need of Latino support (a group for whom immigration is a particularly hot-button issue). Support for tough, controversial measures like Brewer's hurts conservative candidates among this key voting bloc; the result is that many Republicans simply refuse to play ball. Republicans "have paid a tremendous price" for their inaction, says Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a center-left Democratic think tank. "There is no way, politically, that they can sustain their current position."

The Democrats, for their part, don't have the votes to pass immigration reform on their own, especially with some of their own flock unwilling to tackle legislation in an election year. So, as my colleague Walter Shapiro has noted, while Obama (and the Dems) may very much want to see comprehensive immigration reform (beyond just closing their eyes and wishing for it very, very hard), the issue might just be a convenient wedge to galvanize Hispanic turnout (and subsequent support for Democratic candidates) in the midterm elections. Which begs the question: Is Obama's speech on Thursday about politics or policy?

Even the White House seems skeptical that the president will present anything new. Speaking with the press aboard Air Force One on Wednesday, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton offered, "I think a lot of the elements [in his speech] will be familiar." When asked whether Obama might offer a timeline for passage of comprehensive reform, Burton replied, " I don't anticipate a specific timeline, no." Instead, the White House offered this as the reason for "why immigration" and "why now?" Said Burton, "[The president] thought this was a good time to talk plainly with the American people about his views on immigration. Most specifically, he thinks this debate is about accountability for securing the border, accountability for employers who are hiring illegal immigrants, and accountability for those who are in this country illegally." Did you notice how many "accountabilites" that was? You can almost hear the finger pointing.

Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, a pro-immigration business advocacy group, thinks it's important for the president "to do more than pander to his base and blame Republicans. The Arizona law is polarizing, with 60 percent of the public supporting the law and 40 percent denouncing supporters as bigots. It has made advocates on both sides even angrier. Hopefully, Obama will use the occasion to bridge the gap and diffuse the polarization. He should speak to those who think the Arizona law is good and say 'We understand you.'"

As to whether we might see actual reform any time soon, Jacoby acknowledged the skepticism, saying, "Never say never, but the chances of something moving on immigration reform this year are slim." Rosenberg was less pessimistic, saying, "There's more pressure on those in Washington to do something -- whether in next 6 months or next year, I don't know. But I think we're in new phase of the debate. It's become harder and harder for anyone to justify a lack of action on this issue. Everyone wants a better immigration system -- it would be in the best interest of the Republican Party to make amends and get this thing done."

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23 Comments

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Lyle

I also wish these liberal media reports would accurately refer to the Arizona law (which doesn't take effect until July 29) as an anti-ILLEGAL immigrant law and not as anti-immigrant. I think everyone in this country welcomes immigrants who come into our country through the right way and follows all the prescribed steps to become an American Citizen. We do not want or need lawless people coming to our country whose first contact with this country is to dishonor and break our laws by sneaking across our borders. Get it right, report it straight.

July 01 2010 at 2:52 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

Obama can "reform" all the rules and regulations he wants but unless the Mexican government starts to educate their people past the 6th grade there will be illegals every decade. I worked the MX border in the 70s/80s and nothing has changed, just increased. The twin plants draw the poor and uneducated from the interior, they work, obtain US border crossing cards, see the wealth on the US side and just stay. Our government is deaf, dumb and blind on this issue.

July 01 2010 at 2:02 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

"Illegal immigrant" is not a race...

July 01 2010 at 1:25 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Rob & Kathy's comment
junkmailmeplease

Is "Hispanic" a race or ethnicity? On job applications and any number of government forms it is. Hispanics are not the only illegal immigrants in this country taking jobs from citizens and LEGAL immigrants. But they are the vast majority. So, tolerance of illegal immigration is, essentially, an ethnicity-based preference that puts the interests of this mostly-Hispanic group above the interests of legal immigrants, most of whom, I should point out, are also non-white. Enforcement of immigration laws would correct this form of discrimination against people who have chosen to work hard, save and, most importantly, play by the rules. How is that racial discrimination?

July 01 2010 at 1:43 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
ettu

The POTUS, at this very moment, is giving his POLITICAL talking points on immigration reform. He mentions approx 11 million illegals in the Country...I would venture to say the number is triple that amount. He talks about "moral responsibility" and "being a land of immigrants" and once again ignores the wellbeing of the American CITIZENS. We, the taxpayers, who cannot support our own families today, are expected to assume this added burden on our personal, and national, resources, out of a sense of morality and humanity. SECURE THE BORDER, Mr President, and then come back to the American people with your proposal of a pathway toward citizenship, which every American citizens interprets as "amnesty." WHEN WILL YOU PUT AMERICA FIRST? Do we not deserve to maintain our own standard of living before giving so much to so many others? Do we not have a right to expect the President of America to support the American citizens FIRST?

July 01 2010 at 12:56 PM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply
rsticks18

the american people know what to do---put troops on the border --seal it and shoot invaders ---------fine employers who hire illegals so they stop hiring illegals----end the anchor baby law--if the mother is illegal so is the baby------check immigration status of criminals and send them back where they came from and stop burdening the us taxpayer with paying for the costs to jail them-----------the only people playing politics with this are the gutless politicians--from both parties-------------

July 01 2010 at 12:16 PM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply
wtmorton73

Isn't the word "reform" usually employed to mean "to make better?"

July 01 2010 at 11:08 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wtmorton73's comment
junkmailmeplease

Maybe you were being ironic? If not, with all due respect, that seems rather naive. The wide and widening gulf between govt. and the governed is not decreased when Congress and the POTUS use the term "reform" to hammer on opposition to their agendas and policies. Reread your copy of "1984" - this IS Newspeak.

July 01 2010 at 1:29 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

If hispanics began registering with the GOP in unprecedented numbers the border would be locked down next week...

July 01 2010 at 12:48 AM Report abuse +34 rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

Obama claims the federal government has exclusive authority over immgration enforcement. But, he won't enforce it...

July 01 2010 at 12:47 AM Report abuse +44 rate up rate down Reply
Hammer Head

I believe the correct percentage of people who support Gov. Brewers law is between 75%-80%. Most of the liberals in California along with the countless illegals already there are sure to oppose the law so why does it matter what people think who live OUTSIDE of Arizona!. There is an average of one missing person every day in Arizona as well as the state being a gateway for illegals and drug traffic. Whats left of America better wake up and stand for something before Barry runs us into the ground.

July 01 2010 at 12:38 AM Report abuse +42 rate up rate down Reply
extpd311

Just a question....Obama claims that he has sent 1,200 more agents to "monitor" drug trafficing along the border. They aren't there to stop the illegal immigrants. Where did we find 1,200 more agents to send to the border??? Were they sitting in coffee shops waiting for orders??

July 01 2010 at 12:01 AM Report abuse +32 rate up rate down Reply

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