Is President Obama serious about reforming the nation’s immigration laws?
In a series of well-publicized meetings and speeches the last several weeks, the president has repeatedly touted his support of both the Dream Act and other measures to make it easier for people who are in the U.S. without legal status to become citizens. He will likely deliver the same message at a session at the White House Tuesday with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
The president wants to “reinvorgate this conversation and this debate,” said Melody Barnes, the president’s top domestic policy adviser.
But from a bipartisan meeting with Republicans and Democrats who largely back his immigration views to a speech at Miami Dade College last week, the president has also repeatedly said he can’t do anything on immigration without getting support from Republicans in Congress.
“I know some here wish that I could just bypass Congress and change the law myself,” he said at Miami Dade, making reference to calls by some Latino activists to use some of his powers as an executive to limit deportations. “But that’s not how democracy works.”
It is true that a broader immigration measure can’t pass through Congress without GOP support. But what’s less clear is whether the president is actually trying to build such momentum. So far, Obama’s meetings have included “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Langoria, but not House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) or other major Republican congressional figures.
Langoria emerged from her presidential sit-down last week echoing Obama’s message — noting that the White House had pushed the Dream Act last December, only to have Republicans in Congress block the measure. Her statement only fueled the worry among some Latino activists that Obama’s immigration push is too focused on blaming Republicans for inaction, rather than trying to build a coalition himself to get a bill passed.
“It almost seems like he’s trotting in different groups to say ‘I can’t do anything,’ ” said Marisa Treviño, who writes a blog on Hispanic issues called Latina Lista.
The 2012 election serves as the backdrop for the entire debate. Latino activists acknowledge that most Hispanics are likely to side with Obama in 2012 in the wake of measures pushed the last two years by Republicans at the state level that targeted illegal immigrants. But they still want to leverage their support for Obama from Latinos in 2008 into concrete action from the president over the next two years.