Posted on April 23, 2010

Obama Calls for Immigration Overhaul, Says Ariz. Bill ‘Misguided’

Spencer S. Hsu and Anne E. Kornblut, Washington Post, April 23, 2010

President Obama urged Congress on Friday to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, saying that inaction would lead to “misguided efforts” and “irresponsibility by others.”

The president also said an immigration bill currently on the Arizona governor’s desk was “misguided,” and said he has ordered his staff to “closely monitor the situation” to make sure the measure will not violate people’s civil liberties. The bill, already passed by the state House and Senate, would require authorities in Arizona to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are in the country illegally.

Obama’s remarks came in a Rose Garden naturalization ceremony for 24 foreign-born members of the U.S. military. The immigrants earned citizenship through their active-duty service.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid is also pushing for action on immigration on Capitol Hill. Reid this week vaulted the issue to the top of Congress’s spring agenda, saying at a leadership meeting that the Senate could take up the immigration legislation before it considers an energy bill.


The developments underscore election-year realities and appear to reflect in part a political calculation by some Democrats: even if an immigration bill fails, a debate on it could rally their base and mobilize Hispanic voters against GOP lawmakers in some districts. At the same time, the Arizona legislation has provided Democrats the opportunity to put Republicans on the defensive.

In recent weeks, key Democratic supporters including Latino groups, labor unions and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have stepped up pressure on Reid and Obama to tackle the immigration question, as Obama pledged to do in the 2008 presidential race and as Reid has committed to supporters in his Hispanic-heavy home state, where he faces an uphill reelection battle.

As pressure on Democrats has increased, Graham has cooled his support for the proposed bi-partisan framework, which that would strengthen border enforcement, crack down on employers who exploit illegal workers and establish a path for legalization or expulsion of roughly 12 million illegal immigrants. Instead, Graham has made clear in interviews that his priority is an energy and climate bill. He also has blasted the White House for failing to lay groundwork for a Schumer-Graham immigration package.


Obama has joined the fray, calling Republican Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), George LeMieux (Fla.), Richard G. Lugar (Ind.) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) on Tuesday to solicit their support, his spokesman said.


White House officials said Obama had not reached out to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who is up for reelection, about whether she will sign the bill. Instead, he has asked the Justice Department to keep track of what happens with the bill and how it is enforced if it is enacted.

The White House counsel’s office and the Justice Department are examining the Arizona legislation to see if it is constitutional and could lead to any sort of racial profiling, federal law enforcement officials said. {snip}


He [Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee] added, “One has to ask: are members raising the idea of comprehensive reform now because they believe the majority of Americans truly want it, or because it serves a specific political purpose in a tough election year?”

Congressional leaders are ramping up a push for comprehensive immigration reform, potentially exposing deep fissures in the party and forcing nervous lawmakers to vote on an emotional wedge issue just months before the midterm elections.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed publicly on Thursday what has been discussed privately around the Capitol for days–that the House will take up an immigration bill, but only if the Senate passes one first.


Whether an immigration bill could get through the Senate is a huge “if” of course, just six months from the mid-term elections.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is sending his “strongest signal yet” that immigration reform is next on tap for the Senate, possibly at the expense of a climate change bill, a Democratic aide said. “Immigration is gaining steam; climate change may suffer,” the aide said.

Senate Republicans said the economic climate dooms any potential push for an immigration bill. “There is little enthusiasm in Congress to pass legislation that would legalize millions of unlawful residents to compete with out-of-work Americans for needed jobs, further driving down pay and draining government resources,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, where the legislation would be sent.

An politically vulnerable House members aren’t looking forward to taking yet another difficult vote this year, especially after many have already put their jobs on the line voting with the speaker on healthcare and a cap and trade bill.


Immigration is also likely to split the party along both ideological and geographic lines. “It would show fissures,” Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) said.

For Altmire, voting “no” on comprehensive immigration reform is a no-brainer. “It’s not a tough vote for me at all. I’m not going to vote for amnesty,” he said.

That pits him against the Congressional Hispanic Caucus–and against other vulnerable Democrats in districts with significant Hispanic populations, like Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

It’s a situation Republicans hope to exploit. {snip}


But a tough anti-immigrant law in Arizona has brought immigration back into the national conversation. The proposal would require police to stop anyone they had “reasonable suspicion” to believe was an illegal immigrant and arrest them if they weren’t carrying proper identification.


Latino leaders are using the Arizona law to draw attention to the issue and they are working hard to convince Democrats that they could face electoral consequences if they don’t act on comprehensive immigration reform. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) has said that urging Latino voters to stay home is an option that is on the table.