Obama plans renewed push for immigration reform
Updated: 4:06 p.m. ET
In a visit to Texas this week, President Obama will argue that his administration has laid the groundwork necessary for implementing far-reaching immigration reform - and make a renewed plea for bipartisan support in moving forward with the issue.
The president, who campaigned in 2008 on the promise that "we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support," has so far failed to produce results on that pledge. But in recent months, Mr. Obama has called for a revived discussion on immigration reform, meeting both publicly and privately with celebrities, community leaders and stakeholders to discuss how to garner outside support for the issue, and entreating members of Congress to pass legislation addressing it.
In El Paso on Tuesday, Mr. Obama will address the issue in a speech, and will likely argue that, given the increased security on the U.S.-Mexican border, the U.S. now has the chance - and obligation - to address a problem that U.S. politicians have long struggled to resolve.
Mr. Obama has long voiced his support for comprehensive immigration reform, but Congress' inability last year to pass the DREAM Act - a bill that aimed to provide upstanding young undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship - has led some to question his seriousness on the issue.
Immigration rights activists, particularly, have harshly criticized the president for failing to be more proactive on the issue in a year when the U.S. reportedly deported a record number of undocumented immigrants.
Many believe that the moment has passed for Democrats to enact serious reform legislation.
"The moment to use pressure is gone," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), according to the Wall Street Journal. "I'm not going to be disingenuous with the public...It's not going to happen."
Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) have reportedly been engaged in ongoing talks about legislation on the matter, and Schumer said Friday that the two sides had worked out all but one substantial issue. But the WSJ reports that "a spokesman for Mr. Graham suggested the talks weren't serious, saying the two senators have been talking for two years but have failed to produce legislation."
Some believe Mr. Obama's recent return to the issue is motivated largely by political motives - particularly in light of the fact that the GOP-dominated House is unlikely to pass the kind of bill he has pushed for in the past (like the DREAM Act).
"President Obama's push to legalize millions of illegal immigrants is purely political," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). "The president wasn't able to pass his version of immigration reform when he had large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate because of bipartisan opposition. It is unlikely he will succeed anytime soon."
In a press briefing on Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney disputed the idea that Mr. Obama was only raising the issue in order to raise political capital.
"The most valuable commodity that exists in the West Wing is the president's time, as you know, everybody here knows. And just look at how much time he's dedicating to immigration reform. And that should tell you how seriously he is approaching this issue," he told reporters.
"This is a classic case of, [we] cannot do it with one party; [we] have to do it in a bipartisan way," Carney continued. "And it requires focus. It requires education on the issues and persistence. And we're providing as much of those three things as we can."
Still, Mr. Obama is also facing pressure from the right, as legislators - particularly those in states that lie along the U.S.-Mexico border - continue to call for increased security measures.
In Arizona, which is home to some of the country's most stringent immigration laws (including the controversial SB1070, which passed in 2010 though much of it is held up in court), lawmakers recently passed a bill which seeks donations from the public to put up a massive fence along the state's state's 376-mile border with Mexico.
"We're going to build this site as fast as we can, and promote it, and market the heck out of it," said Republican state Sen. Steve Smith, of a website that would accept online donations for the project. (For labor, the plan would largely rely on the work of minimum-security prisoners.)
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama has until June to decide whether or not to push for renewed funding to keep 1,200 National Guardsmen deployed at the U.S.-Mexico border. Congress approved the mission, which provides troops to assist immigration-related Border Control operations in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, last summer - but no decision has yet been reached as to whether or not it will continue.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has urged Mr. Obama to extend funding for the border security mission, citing the "valuable" results it had produced so far.
"The support the Arizona National Guard has provided has been very valuable to law enforcement efforts in Arizona," Brewer said in a letter to Mr. Obama last month. "Further, I believe evidence is clear that the Arizona National Guard has approached the mission with cost effectiveness in mind."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said recently, however, that funding for the extension had not yet been approved.
"We have asked the Congress," she said. "I have asked our appropriators twice to allow us to reprogram funds to pay for the guard and to continue to pay for the guard at the border. That reprogramming has been denied. I asked our appropriators and it was denied last year."
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