President Obama will renew his push for comprehensive immigration reform on Monday in San Francisco, part of his long-stalled three-point plan for improving the economy. Republicans continue to shrug. A year after all of Washington decide3d that immigration reform was a must-pass issue, activists are getting annoyed.
There's a parallel dimension in which Obama's insistence on the issue makes immediate political sense, a dimension in which Barack Obama narrowly lost reelection to a Republican candidate who was heavily supported by Latino voters, prompting self-reflection in the Democratic Party and necessitating that the outgoing president try to bolster his party's outreach. But that is not our dimension. Here, it's the Republicans who, a year ago, were fervent about trying to appeal to Latino voters but now have explicitly postponed the issue until at least next year.
As we noted Monday morning, Obama is being direct in trying to refocus the political conversation on the economy. Earlier this year, he outlined three ways in which he believed Congress could quickly bolster job and income growth — reach a budget deal, passage of the Farm Bill, and immigration reform. The Senate passed a compromise immigration bill in July, but the House never brought the legislation up for consideration. Two weeks ago, Speaker John Boehner announced that the House would never consider the Senate bill.
Speaking to Face the Nation on Sunday, the House's third-ranking Republican, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, declared that a reform bill "is going to happen," given that "we need to fix this system." That bill, though, would be one that originates with House Republicans, not the Democrat-led Senate, which was Boehner's point. Instead, it would be comprised of fixes derived from a consensus in the House. This is a consensus that it's not clear could be developed. Republicans struggle to negotiate the demands of Latino voters — a group of voters the party is trying to woo — with the demands of a staunchly conservative and widely anti-amnesty base — a group of voters it needs in order to win any election.
Leaving us here. President Obama challenges Congress to act on immigration reform, in part to be able to talk about something other than Obamacare and in part to boost the economy (and, with that, his poll numbers). Congressional Republicans keep kicking the rock down the road, postponing the difficult negotiation between two strongly conflicting demands. The urgency of November 2012 has evolved into the avoidance of November 2013.
And all the while Latino activists grow increasingly frustrated, as The Atlantic's Molly Ball reports.
Earlier this month, unions and immigrant-rights groups teamed up on what they termed an “escalation,” a batch of tough Spanish-language television ads in the districts of nine GOP congressmen. One of the ads concludes, “When you listen to what the Republicans say about immigrants, it makes you wonder if they believe in this country as much as we do.” The ads are accompanied by a ground-level push to register and organize voters in those districts.
According to a poll released on Monday from the Public Religion Research Institute, more than 60 percent of Americans agree with creating a way for those who immigrated illegally to get their citizenship — including 60 percent of Republicans. This number has stayed consistent over time.
Meaning that activist's anger and energy — more than Obama's speeches or Boehner's dithering — may be what it takes for reform to actually happen.