The Washington Post

West Wing Briefing: Obama unlikely to get immigration overhaul through Congress

Demonstrators march during a May Day protest May 1, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Thousands of people marched for immigration reform, among other issues. (Eric Thayer/GETTY IMAGES)

It appears unlikely that situation will change for President Obama in 2011. Four years after then-President George W. Bush failed to move Congress on the issue, Obama will launch his biggest sustained push as president to pass immigration legislation with a speech in El Paso on Tuesday.

Conservatives have argued for years that any bill granting citizenship to those here illegally must come after more is done to improve border security and safety. White House aides say that Obama will proclaim Tuesday that progress has been made on the border, and it is now time to move on to broader immigration legislation.

But such legislation faces an uphill battle for passage.

Congressional Republicans have already said the focus in Washington should be on job growth and spending cuts, and they say they are not eager to take up immigration reform. Many of them, as well as some Democrats, sharply disagree with the idea of creating a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people here illegally — a process they view as amnesty.

And polls show that many voters, particularly Republicans, don’t see immigration legislation to be as big a priority as border security.

“Our focus remains on the American people’s priorities: creating jobs, cutting spending, and lowering gas prices,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

The lack of a clear legislative path is likely to increase pressure on Obama from Latino activists, who say he should explore using his executive powers to shift immigration law, particularly in reducing the number of deportation involving young people whose parents brought them to the United States illegally.

The impasse on immigration is in some ways surprising. Polls show that a majority of people support the position advocated by Obama, Bush, conservative-leaning business groups and liberal activists: requiring people already here illegally to pay a fine and learn English but then allowing them to become U.S. citizens. (In a recent Pew Research Center poll. 72 percent of Americans overall backed this view, including 49 percent of people Pew defined as “staunch conservatives.”)

In addition, both political parties have an incentive to reach out to Latinos, who are the fastest-growing demographic in the country.

But Obama also tried last year to push immigration legislation that would create a path to citizenship, and, like his predecessor, he got little support from Republicans in Congress.

Obama today

The president heads to El Paso, then to fund-raising events in Austin.


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