Obama's Arizona immigration law summit: what to expect

President Obama will meet with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer Thursday to discuss the Arizona immigration law. But room for compromise appears to be minimal.

David Wallace/The Arizona Republic/AP
Jan Brewer (r.), seen here with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin May 15 in Phoenix, will meet with President Obama Thursday in Washington to discuss immigration issues.

Arizona's push for immigration reform is getting its day at the White House.

When Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 on April 24 – the state’s tough new immigration law requiring police to ask for ID from anyone they suspect of being undocumented – she said the bill was necessary to “address a situation we did not create and the federal government has refused to fix – the crisis caused by illegal immigration on Arizona’s porous border.”

President Obama responded days later from the White House Rose Garden with highly-quoted remarks: “A failure to act at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others – that includes the recent efforts by Arizona which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.”

Now, the two are scheduled to meet Thursday in Washington, and observers from all sides will be sifting through accounts of the encounter to decipher any hints of movement by either side. Most say tangible action from the meeting is unlikely.

“It appears that the chief objective of the meeting is one that is symbolic in nature – to bring both sides of the issue together at the table,” says Villanova assistant professor of political science Catherine Wilson. “It is highly unexpected that Governor Brewer and President Obama will change their point of view on the issue.”

The President will be forced to walk the tightrope between two political needs, says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College.

“On the one hand, he has to assure Hispanic supporters that he will fight discrimination and work to reform immigration law,” he says. “On the other hand, he also has to demonstrate that he is serious about border security and that he understands the gravity of Arizona's problems.”

Progress won’t come from the meeting because Brewer is just in it for politics, argues immigration reform advocate Robert Gittleman. “There is not going to be much accomplished … because the governor is disingenuously pushing for federal immigration reform.” Brewer has been rattling cages from the beginning, he says, blatantly pandering to the far right of her base.

Supporters of the Arizona law say they will be watching for something tangible from the administration.

“The decision by Arizona state officials to enact SB 1070 was not ‘political maneuvering,' " says Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “It was a carefully thought-out response to a crisis … that is draining state resources and endangering the security of Arizonans.” Mr. Mehlman accuses the Obama administration of systematically undermining immigration law enforcement, and says the public should be asking why Obama hasn’t exercised the authority he already has.

“The day the [Arizona] law was signed, President Obama admitted that the federal government has failed to address the problem of illegal immigration adequately,” says Mehlman. “He has all the authority he needs to enforce immigration laws at the border and in the interior of the country.”

Arizona's new law has drawn criticism from the federal government and sparked rallies and economic boycotts.


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