Obama Reverses Stance on Immigration

Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, May 8, 2009

On the thorniest of political issues, President Obama has embraced the enforcement-first position on immigration that he criticized during last year’s presidential campaign, and he now says he can’t move forward with the type of comprehensive bill he wants until voters are convinced that the borders can be enforced.

Having already backed off his pledge to have an immigration bill this year, Mr. Obama boosted his commitment to enforcement in the budget released Thursday. The spending blueprint calls for extra money to build an employee-verification system and to pay for more personnel and equipment to patrol the border.

This security-first stance is not unlike that of President George W. Bush, Bush Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, who said their immigration bill failed in 2007 because voters didn’t trust the government to be serious about enforcement.

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Immigration questions dog Mr. Obama. He was asked about the issue at a town hall in California and has been prodded by Spanish-language reporters, to whom he has given plenty of access.

But so far, even as he puts off a target date for signing a comprehensive bill, he has kept the support of immigrant rights groups, who applaud his changes at the Department of Homeland Security and say he’s still committed to their top priority–a bill that would legalize most illegal immigrants.

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Last summer, as a candidate, Mr. Obama said stepped-up enforcement had to be coupled with rewriting immigration rules and giving both instant legal status and an eventual path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants who are willing to pay a fine and learn English.

He also told the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials that comprehensive immigration–the term backers use for a bill that includes legalizing illegal immigrants–would be “a priority I will pursue from my very first day.”

But last month, on Univision’s “Al Punto” Sunday political talk show, host Jorge Ramos tried to pin down Mr. Obama on his campaign “guarantee” that “we will have, in the first year, an immigration bill that I strongly support.”

“You are absolutely right, the economic crisis has meant that I have been putting a lot on Congress’ plate,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Ramos, according to Univision’s transcript. “So what that’s meant is that just in terms of the calendar, I can’t guarantee that I will have a bill on my desk before the end of the year.”

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