Immigration reform: Obama's political dilemma

President Obama wants comprehensive immigration reform, and he’s suing to block Arizona’s tough new law. But most Americans – including many Democratic officials – are against him.

By , Staff writer

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    Immigration reform: Four people sneak away from the US/Mexico border fence after illegally crossing into the border town of Nogales, Arizona, in May. They tried to stay low until they could blend into the town streets, but were caught and arrested shortly afterwards by US Customs and Border Protection agents.
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Immigration policy is tough for any president – just ask George W. Bush, who tried and failed to get comprehensive immigration reform that included a guest-worker program, which opponents in his own party said would lead to “amnesty” for illegal aliens.

President Obama finds himself in the same kind of hornet’s nest on immigration, and again it’s many in his own party as well as Republicans who are unhappy with his stand.

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border

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Obama wants comprehensive reform, including a process allowing illegal aliens in this country to gain residency by paying back taxes, undergoing background checks, and waiting their place in line behind others seeking to come to the United States. Meanwhile, Obama’s Justice Department is suing to block Arizona’s tough anti-illegal immigrant law, which is scheduled to go into effect next week.

The political fallout is not encouraging for Obama, according to recent reports.

"The White House's infatuation with immigration reform is a lose-lose proposal for Democrats this election year," a senior Democratic aide told Time. “Talk of immigration angers independents, at the same time angering Hispanics because there is more talk and no action just in time for an election.”

Western Democrats uneasy

Democratic governors – particularly those in the West – are very uneasy about the administration’s thrust on immigration, especially in light of the nation’s troubled economy.

“This is an issue that divides us politically, and I’m hopeful that their strategy doesn’t do that in a way that makes it more difficult for candidates to get elected,” Democratic Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. of Colorado (who’s not seeking reelection) told the New York Times.

“Universally the governors are saying, ‘We’ve got to talk about jobs,’ ” Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) of Tennessee told the Times. “And all of a sudden we have immigration going on.”

Meanwhile, Republicans officials around the country are organizing in support of Arizona against the Justice Department lawsuit.

Last week, the attorneys general of eight states – all Republicans – filed an amicus brief in federal court supporting Arizona's tough new immigration law.

“It is appalling to see President Obama use taxpayer dollars to stop a state’s efforts to protect its own borders,” said Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox in a statement. "My mother was a legal immigrant who faithfully carried her green card with her for years before gaining citizenship – it certainly is not too much to ask legal immigrants to do the same today."

As Obama (and others) decry a “patchwork” of state laws as reason to assert federal authority over immigration, most states appear to be going it alone at an accelerating pace.

States passing more immigration laws

Between 2006 and 2009, the number of state bills and new laws related to immigration more than doubled, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“In the first quarter of this year, state legislators in 45 states had introduced 1,180 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees,” NCSL reported in May.

Most Americans support stiffer laws against illegal immigration, polls show. Gallup reported this month that “Americans' initial reactions to the U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against Arizona's new illegal immigration law are more negative than positive, by a 50 percent to 33 percent margin.”

“This means the Obama administration is sailing against the tide of public opinion in its efforts to block the law,” reports Gallup.

As the debate continues, so does the stream of immigrants entering the US illegally from Mexico.

The Center for Immigration recently posted its second hidden-camera video of illegal border crossings, some involving guns and drugs.

“The inescapable conclusion is that hidden cameras reveal a reality that illegal-alien activity is escalating,” the organization reported.

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border

Related:

Arizona immigration lawsuit: Obama sails into a political storm

Immigration law in Arizona targeted in Department of Justice lawsuit

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