President Obama has never taken my counsel about how to proceed in pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform, and I don’t expect him to start now.
It’s obvious that he doesn’t care about the issue beyond whatever political gain he can soak from it at any given time. And besides, he finds it just as easy to identify with those Americans — especially African-Americans — who feel displaced by illegal immigrants as he does with those who feel that illegal immigrants should have a pathway to earned legal status.
Nonetheless, I’ll offer this final piece of advice: “Either work with Congress to set timelines, outline priorities, and pass immigration reform sooner rather than later, or go on your way. But, for heaven’s sake, stop talking about it!”
Obama must think he is doing himself and fellow Democrats some good with Latino voters by, every few months, promising to deliver comprehensive immigration reform and portraying Republicans in Congress as the main impediment. The president followed that script again during a recent speech at American University in Washington, D.C., a major address on immigration reform that angered the right, disappointed the left, and left both sides unsatisfied.
The problem wasn’t the speech. Obama said the right things. He emphasized our nation’s proud immigrant tradition, and didn’t sidestep the racism and ethnocentrism that have plagued the immigration debate since German immigrants first arrived in the mid 1770s and were greeted with suspicion and hostility by the English settlers who were already here.
The problem was the person giving the speech. At the end of the soaring rhetoric, as is often the case with an Obama speech, there was no specific plan or call to action. And that’s unfortunate because, on this issue more than most, bold and decisive action is exactly what we need.
The best part was when Obama staked out the middle ground in a debate that doesn’t leave much of that for anyone to claim. He is correct that those on the left who want a blanket, condition-free amnesty and open borders are wrong. Just as he is correct that those on the right who think enforcement measures alone can solve this problem and that we can deport 12 million people are also wrong.
Obama was good at diagnosing the affliction. The system is broken. Check. Too many people find it difficult to migrate to the United States legally, and too many people still come illegally. Check. Those who come illegally lower wages for U.S. workers since employers exploit them. Check. We need a comprehensive approach that combines enforcement with earned legal status for illegal immigrants who are already here. Check.
But where he fell short was in not writing out a prescription. He could have announced that the White House was making immigration reform a top priority, and that his administration would be dispatching cabinet members — the secretaries of Labor, Commerce, and Homeland Security along with the attorney general — to go to Capitol Hill twice a week for the next six months and hammer out a bill. He could have set a timeline, or essential elements that any piece of legislation would need to have in order to win White House approval. He could have made clear what more his administration was prepared to do by way of securing the border to lay the groundwork for an honest discussion of immigration reform. He did none of that.
Obama is not fooling anyone. Latinos know which party controls both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and they’ve lost patience with Obama trying to shift the blame for his failure to get anything done on the immigration reform front.
Look at the polls. Hispanics’ approval of President Barack Obama’s job performance slipped to 57% in May, after falling from 69% in January to 64% in February. By contrast, whites’ and blacks’ approval of the president remains fairly steady.
I’m not surprised. The Latinos I hear from say they feel teased and toyed with by the president, as if this is just a game to him while, to those who lack legal status, it’s serious business. So every time Obama reaffirms his promise to try to reassure Latino voters that he is still in their corner, it has the exact opposite effect. It reminds Latinos that they’re on their own and tells them that a president they helped elect by giving him two-thirds of their votes has forgotten all about them and one of their major agenda items.
Don’t be surprised if, by the time the 2012 election rolls around, most Latinos have forgotten all about him.