In his meeting with progressive leaders yesterday, President Obama promised to make immigration reform a priority for his second-term:
One source, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was an off-the-record meeting, said Obama brought up immigration reform, unprompted, in his opening remarks — a stark difference from tense previous talks in which he’s been prodded by reform advocates to address the topic.
“I’ve been in a number of meetings with him on this topic, it’s been pretty rough, but this one, the passion, intensity, seriousness — I was pretty struck,” the source said. “If there’s one thing he was crystal clear he was going to get done in 2013 … it was immigration reform. He was going to lean into it; he was sure Republicans were going to come to the table. It was sort of what he’s said before, but with huge conviction.”
Liberals and immigration advocates have reason to be wary of this — Obama made the same promise while running for president four years ago, and he proceeded to devote his time to the economy and health care. Both were important, yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that immigration reform fell by the wayside, while at the same time, the president began to crack down on undocumented immigrants, deporting more people than any previous administration.
At the same time, Obama owes his reelection victory — in significant part — to high Latino support. Overall, Obama won 71 percent of Latino voters, to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent. And in key states such as Colorado and Nevada, Obama’s Latino support was as high as 80 percent. This fact gives Obama the extra push of urgency; for two elections, Latinos have given him their support, with the hope that he’ll pursue policies that help them and their communities. To an extent, Obama did that with health-care reform—61 percent of Latinos support the Affordable Care Act, more than any group other than African Americans. But now it’s time to tackle immigration, which is just as important to the well-being of many Latino communities.
It’s hard to pinpoint the prospects for a meaningful immigration reform package. As the current beneficiaries of Latino voting, Democrats are ready to push forward with a plan. Republicans, on the other hand, have reason for reticence. Yes, they need to improve their standing with Latinos — and nonwhite voters writ large — but their anti-tax, anti-spending position does not appeal to working- and middle-class Latino families who support greater government action in the economy. Republican support for immigration reform won’t solve that core problem, and indeed, could spark another backlash from their base of working- and middle-class whites, who feel threatened by immigration. In which case, the incentives for cooperation — and prospects for reform — are much worse than they look.