Why is Obama pushing immigration changes in Las Vegas?

President Obama on Friday is expected to announce details of his long-awaited executive moves on immigration. Nevada is the home state of soon-to-be Senate minority leader Harry Reid, who faces a very tough reelection fight in 2016.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Obama speaks during the 'ConnectED to the Future' event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. The president will travel to Las Vegas Friday, a Democratic official said, heightening anticipation that he will announce executive orders on immigration this week.

[Update: President Obama announced on his Facebook page Wednesday that he will outline his immigration plan Thursday evening in a speech to the nation at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. That will be followed by a Friday event in Las Vegas at which he will talk about plan details and try to rally support.]

It looks like Washington’s coming uproar over immigration finally has a starting date. On Friday, President Obama will announce details of his long-awaited executive moves delaying deportation for up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants, according to multiple news reports on Wednesday.

It’s possible the White House may release a broad outline of the plan on Thursday, according to CNBC. Then Mr. Obama could use his already-planned trip to Las Vegas as the forum for explaining the move in depth and justifying his actions.

The order is expected to affect, at the least, the parents and guardians of children who are American citizens or have green cards. It’s possible that Obama could expand this to include other subgroups of immigrants living in the shadows.

Any changes Obama could order in this area would of necessity be temporary. The president does not have the power to alter eligibility for citizenship or green cards. As a legal matter, he does have the power to defer prosecution for many offenses, as the government doesn’t have the resources to pursue all lawbreakers at the same time.

The order will set up a ferocious debate with House and Senate Republicans who oppose Obama’s impending actions as executive overreach that take prosecutorial discretion much too far. Many in the GOP describe Obama’s approach as “amnesty” for people who have entered the country illegally.

The choice of Nevada as a venue for the rollout of the immigration moves is an interesting one. It’s the home state of soon-to-be Senate minority leader Harry Reid, who faces a very tough reelection fight in 2016.

It’s unlikely the president would be speaking on immigration this Friday in Nevada unless he’d first run the idea by Senator Reid.

Obama traveled to Las Vegas for a major 2013 speech on immigration. At the time he was pushing broad bipartisan immigration reform legislation in the Senate. That approach is now stuck in the GOP-controlled House.

Nevada has a small population, but a high percentage of undocumented immigrants. According to Pew Research data, in 2012 it had the highest percentage of such residents in the United States: 7.6 percent.

It also has the highest percentage of illegal immigrants in its labor force, at 10.2 percent. And crucially for the White House, it has in its schools many, many children of these workers. In Nevada, 17.7 percent of students in K-12 schools have at least one undocumented parent.

“Yes, this is about immigration, about Reid, about Nevada. Bye 2014 cycle; hello, 2016,” tweeted Jon Ralston, a well-known Nevada political reporter, after news broke of the impending presidential visit.

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