The Arizona law passed earlier this year that allows police officers to question the residency status of people reasonably suspected of being in the U.S. illegally created a sense of urgency within the administration to address an issue they had largely been ignoring. (Here is a fact sheet on the bill, and here is a notice for a summit in Arizona supporting the bill. Note the line at the end: “All patriots are welcome to attend…”) Now, however, Obama and his administration have become ratcheting up their focus on reform by attacking the aforementioned Arizona law.
The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit challenging the law on the grounds that it impugns on the Federal Government’s responsibility to set and enforce immigration policies. And President Obama has begun to openly speak about the need for reform, though he has not been too specific about what he wants reform to look like other than to say he wants undocumented people living here to take English language courses and pay fines before getting in the back of the line for citizenship.
As usual, Obama is focusing a lot on getting a bipartisan plan for comprehensive reform and seems willing to let Congress decide what the plan will look like. The problem, politically, is that the Democrats in Congress want no part of immigration reform right now, not when they face elections in November and the economy is still sputtering. I cannot blame them (politically) but the situation reveals a harsh truth: it may not be possible to pass comprehensive reform after November if the Democrats lose the House.
It is hard to blame Obama for not pushing harder on reform earlier given all the issues he inherited and how long it took to get healthcare reform passed (which shows he considered that a higher priority than immigration reform). At the same time, Latino voters supported Obama overwhelmingly in 2008 based in large part on our belief that he would advocate for comprehensive reform.
It appears that as the mid-terms approach, Obama is reminding Latino voters that he has not forgotten them and this call for reform seems aimed at getting the Latino vote out in November. But Latino voters are frustrated with the Arizona law and Obama’s response, and Obama’s overtures may be way too little and way too late.