It would be a revival worthy of Lazarus, but President Obama is making a renewed push for an immigration overhaul, possibly during a lame-duck session of Congress after the November election–when members would no longer face an imminent political risk for supporting it.
Obama met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the State Dining Room on Tuesday and discussed a strategy for passing a bill that had seemed dead for the year.
On Thursday morning, the president will put the issue before the American public. In a speech at American University, he plans to make the case for providing a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million people who live in the U.S. illegally while strengthening border enforcement.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at his daily briefing Tuesday that “this continues to be a very important national issue” requiring Republican support. To date, no Republican senators have agreed to back a comprehensive immigration bill. Nor has such a bill been introduced in the Senate.
Obama “can’t sign something that doesn’t exist,” said one person who was at the White House meeting.
Latino lawmakers who have criticized the White House for neglecting immigration said they were pleased.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who was part of the Hispanic Caucus meeting with Obama, said in an interview: “He’s going to speak to the nation on Thursday and tell the country why it’s important to have comprehensive immigration reform. That’s something we’ve been demanding of this administration.”
Voting on an immigration bill in a lame-duck session has some advantages in proponents’ eyes. Outgoing members of Congress would have little reason to fear backing a controversial bill. And those who won might be more likely to support it, since they wouldn’t have to face voters for another two years–when Obama is up for reelection and likely to draw progressives to the polls.
Raising the issue anew allows Obama to mollify his Latino supporters. But it also puts Republicans in a tough spot. Neither party can afford to write off a Latino community whose influence is growing.
Forcing a vote on immigration would give Republicans a difficult choice: They could vote against the bill and risk antagonizing Latinos, or vote yes and invite the wrath of “tea party” activists and other conservatives opposed to what they view as amnesty for illegal immigrants.
In another move likely to please Latino voters, Obama’s immigration enforcement chief, John Morton, issued a memo Tuesday ordering his agency to focus on deporting criminals and those who pose a national security threat, rather than on pursuing people such as “immediate family members of U.S. citizens” and those caring for children.