Why immigration reform may not help the GOP

March 26, 2013

Even as it works to find support for a new package of gun laws, the administration and its allies are also pivoting back to immigration reform. The Hill notes: “The White House hopes to bolster President Obama’s political standing by shifting attention from the bruising budget battles of the last month to immigration reform and gun control.”

Yesterday, for example, Obama urged action on immigration reform during a naturalization ceremony in the White House. “We are making progress, but we’ve got to finish the job,” said the president, “We’ve got a lot of white papers and studies. We’ve just got, at this point, to work up the political courage to do what’s required to be done.” What’s more, Organizing for Action — the political group that grew out of Obama’s reelection campaign — has declared an effort to highlight the personal stories of immigrants. And this morning, the Service Employees International Union announced its plan to launch a cable ad campaign urging lawmakers to support immigration reform.

As for the target of this push, it’s not unreasonable to think it’s the Republican Party, which is still divided between immigration reform advocates — with Florida Senator Marco Rubio at the helm—and reform opponents, who argue against anything that might include a “path to citizenship” for unauthorized immigrants. Opponents are also unsure the GOP will gain anything politically from signing on to immigration reform, and for good reason. The Hill quotes Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, who notes that comprehensive immigration reform would be a huge achievement for Obama, having eluded the previous four presidents.

In other words, even if Republicans do some leading on immigration reform, and even if they provide votes, the political credit — or a large share of it — will accrue to Obama. There’s not much in government the public doesn’t attribute to the president. If immigration reform is passed, then he — and not his Republican partners — will receive most of the praise.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.

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Greg Sargent | March 26, 2013