Pete Souza



Obama and Immigration

President Barack Obama is talking big (again). This time it is about immigration. At the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Obama has said that he would deal with immigration reform during the first year of his second term. Now all he has to do is get reelected. Not surprisingly, Obama is trying to brand Romney as an extremist on this issue, suggesting “that Romney supports laws that would potentially allow for people to be stopped and asked for citizenship papers based on an assumption that they are illegal.”

Hispanic voters helped Obama immensely in 2008; that is no secret. According to a Pew Research Center Poll, 64 percent of Hispanic men and 68 percent of Hispanic women voted for Obama four years ago. Obama recognizes the significance of this and knows that the influence of Hispanics extends well beyond states like Florida, New Jersey, and Nevada.

The recent past

In 2006, twenty-six Republicans voted for immigration reform. In 2007, that number dwindled to twelve. Perhaps most discouragingly, the 2006 bill was arguably “more liberal” than the one presented the following year.

As Mort Kondracke noted in the summer of 2007, “the big winners in this fight are demagogues with microphones and their political allies. What they will demand next, presumably, is a campaign to drive illegal immigrants out of the country. You can expect to see some ugly scenes of families being torn apart and U.S. citizens of Hispanic origin being victimized. That’s the price of cowardice.”

That is discouraging

Not known for balanced analysis, U.S. Congressman Luis Gutierrez recently said that, “When this Congress is over and the president is re-elected, I fully expect a debate on how we re-establish law and order in our immigration system, and I fully expect the leading Republicans on the immigration issue to fight every attempt at reform tooth and nail. Too many on that side of the aisle are addicted to scapegoating and denigrating immigrants — and Democrats — to have it any other way.”

In the United States, immigration is a topic that arouses passion, pain, vitriol, and hope. It also encourages policy paralysis. If Obama defeats Mitt Romney in November, he will have (another) chance to put his rhetoric into action.

But will he?

The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. exceeds eleven million, with Mexicans accounting for nearly sixty percent of that group. Any sort of “comprehensive” immigration reform must deal with these people fairly.

Senator John McCain’s take on immigration reform in 2008 (giving people already in the United States a path to citizenship) was at least reasonable. Forthcoming immigration reform(s) must deal with the people who are already living in the U.S., even though that is, politically, the trickiest part of this dilemma.

The election and beyond

More recently, Mitt Romney has been talking tough about cracking down on illegal immigrants. But, if one were trying to woo the hardline of the Republican Party, who wouldn’t? Obama likes to dream big and there are few American voters who would discourage that. However, delivering on past promises also matters. Guantánamo is still open. U.S. voters will not know if “Obamacare” is even constitutional until this summer.

When it comes to foreign policy, Obama has embraced the policies of his predecessor and there he has had some success. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether “the rapid expansion of the drone program” under the Obama administration is in America’s long-term interests. Many would argue that it is not. Edward Alden has pointed out that illegal immigration and law enforcement are inextricably linked to changing the legal immigration processes. Regrettably, for political reasons, the two issues have been dealt with separately.