Immigration must be a frustrating subject for President Obama. He’s been battling Republicans – those in Congress, and those trying to take his job in 2012 – for years.
But now, one senses a sort of serenity about immigration for Obama.
He never has to run for election again. And the newly-powerful GOP on Capitol Hill has yet to sort itself out on a clear immigration policy and message – not least because it has at least three US Senators with strong presidential ambitions (Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul).
Remember how Republican presidential hopefuls two years ago got twisted up trying to out-tough-guy each other on illegal immigrants? Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” was classic. When Rick Perry tried to explain state tuition breaks for young illegal immigrants in Texas, the others pounced.
As Newt Gingrich said at the time, “It’s a very complicated situation.”
Today, of course, it’s only gotten more complicated. Meanwhile, Republican Party leaders know they need to do a lot better attracting Latino voters, the great majority of whom (71-27 percent) went for Obama over Romney two years ago.
Soon, Obama is expected to issue an executive order removing the threat of deportation for upward of 5 million immigrants in the US illegally – mainly the parents of children born in this country and therefore US citizens.
Since the US Department of Homeland Security has the resources to deport only a few hundred thousand illegal immigrants a year (of the estimated 11 million in the country today), the order in essence would move those 5 million to the bottom of the list of those eligible for deportation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and some other Democrats say Obama’s promised executive action on immigration should wait until Congress passes a funding bill, which would avert another government shutdown.
But immigration reform advocates argue otherwise, and the recent midterm election may have pushed Obama to move sooner rather than later.
“Democrats no longer have to worry that the Senate runoff in Louisiana will tip the balance of power,” Seung Min Kim and Carrie Budoff Brown write in Politico.com. “The West Wing assumes Republicans will use immigration to gum up the government funding bill no matter when Obama announces the executive actions. And the pressure to move quickly only intensified this week as details of the plan leaked, giving Republicans free rein to bloody it.”
Signals from the voting public on immigration are mixed.
A Pew Research Center survey in July found 61 percent said it is important to pass significant immigration legislation this year.
‘But there is a wide partisan gap among the public as to how immigration reform should be approached,’ Pew reported. “More than half (53 percent) of Republicans said the priority should be on better border security and stronger law enforcement, compared with just 19 percent of Democrats who said the same…. By contrast, 33 percent of Democrats favored prioritizing a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, compared with 9 percent of Republicans.”
Some 45 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Republicans said both approaches should be given equal priority, according to Pew, which adds up to comprehensive immigration reform – the thing that has eluded the White House and Congress.
“There is a very simple solution to this perception that somehow I'm exercising too much executive authority: pass a bill I can sign on this issue,” Obama Sunday said at a news conference at the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia.
If Congress does act, Obama said, “Metaphorically, I'll crumple up whatever executive actions that we take and we'll toss them in the wastebasket because we will now have a law that addresses these issues.”