July 1st, 2010
08:13 AM ET
9 years ago

What's behind Obama's immigration reform push?

President Obama is pushing to get immigration reform passed this year.

President Obama is pushing to get immigration reform passed this year.

Washington (CNN) - Immigration reform has been something of an albatross around the necks of politicians for years. The lack of a comprehensive federal policy has not only angered those in Congress, but the public as well.

And with President Obama's push Thursday to get immigration reform passed this year, analysts said the stakes are high even if it's not a top issue facing the country.

"We've been trying to do immigration reform steadily for the last five years and on and off for quite a bit longer than that," said Marc Rosenblum, a senior policy analyst at Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. "I think that voters are impatient - especially folks who have a real stake in this issue: immigrants and their families and business that employ them."

Rosenblum knows the daunting challenge immigration reform faces in Congress. As a fellow in the office of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, he helped craft legislation during the 2006 immigration debate. The legislation ultimately failed to gain traction.

He said Arizona's controversial new immigration law, which many critics liken to racial profiling, has pushed reform to the forefront of Democrats' minds.

"The Arizona law definitely forced the issue and has raised its profile at the national level," Rosenblum said. "There's no question that Latino voters care about this issue and have tried to make that connection and that there are people in the Democratic leadership who are watching and concerned about it."

Obama took aim at the law, saying in a May news conference that the law was the wrong approach to tackling the issue - though he understood the impetus for it.

"I understand the frustrations of the people of Arizona and a lot of folks along the border that that border has not been entirely secured in a way that is both true to our traditions as a nation of law and as a nation of immigrants," he said.

Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said those concerns brought the immigration debate back after much of the attention has been focused on economic recovery and health care reform.

The law, he said, "probably prompted action from the White House."

And it's with good reason, according to a national poll.

In late May, a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll found that six in 10 respondents found that the federal government should focus on stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S., deporting those already here and supporting more border security.

The same poll also found that 57 percent of those surveyed favored Arizona's new law, while 37 percent opposed it.

Immigration is not necessarily a make-it-or-break-it issue for the influential voting bloc. A Pew study released in 2008 indicated that Latinos placed immigration second to last on a list of seven policy priorities. The economy, education and health care were ranked as more important.

Democrats, though, recognize that Latinos are important to winning office. In 2008, Latino voters overwhelmingly supported Obama at the polls.

As a presidential candidate, Obama promised to move on immigration reform, saying the election was a chance to quit playing politics and address immigration.

Republicans have largely been silent on the immigration reform push - though Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, helped craft legislation in the Senate alongside Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, has also been a leading advocate over the years for reform.

Rosenblum, who worked on Obama's immigration transition team in 2009, noted many Republicans may be silent because they calculate that Democrats will get credit for any reform bill that is passed.

"On one hand, there's Republicans who perceive that they're harmed by this ... on the other hand, there's not a lot of Republicans who see they can benefit from it," he said. "I think in the long run, a lot of Republican leaders recognize that Latinos are the fastest-growing constituency in the country and they can't succeed without support from Latinos - and they can't be a monolithic anti-immigrant party."

And that may be why congressional Democrats are pushing the issue as the November midterm elections approach.

"I think the clock is ticking on large Democratic majorities," Gonzales said. "If the White House wants to get something significant done in the president's first term, they have to push for it now because I think that the best-case scenario for the Democrats after November will be narrow Democratic majorities. Other scenarios have them maybe losing the House."

Filed under: Congress • Immigration • issues • President Obama
soundoff (64 Responses)
  1. Matt

    Obama and immigration? Come on, his aunt flaunted the law and is still in the US. He's only 'addressing the problem' because of poll numbers.

    In fact, had he and his administration kept their mouths shut after the AZ law passed, or at least read the law and stated TRUTHS... I'd think that he could be sincere. Instead, he ran his mouth 'stupidly', stated misinformation, and threatened to get it overturned WITHOUT READING 10 SIMPLE PAGES–that mimic the federal law.

    Even Holder and Queen Nepto didn't read the 10 page bill.

    Obama and his administration have shown that they don't care what American needs or wants (70% agree with AZ, 60% didn't want Obamacare...). Vote these guys out.

    July 1, 2010 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  2. Ancient Texan

    A fast track approach to amnesty and immediate voting rights is the goal of Obama and the current administration. Politics and staying in power are the utmost concerns for this president.

    July 1, 2010 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  3. File under "Sarcasm"

    What's behind it; is simple; photo-ops and garnering Latino votes. Meanwhile the US economy is sinking under the weight of all his new spending.

    July 1, 2010 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  4. WHAT

    They first brought them here to work for slave wages, now they want them gone,go figure.

    July 1, 2010 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  5. gary

    This is something that needs to be done. Letting this problem fester is dividing the nation.

    July 1, 2010 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  6. phoenix86

    Obama wants immigration reform but will no nothing to protect Americans in the border states other than put up signs warning Americans to stay away.

    Nice to see that Obama has such little regard for the lives of US citizens.

    July 1, 2010 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  7. Hugo

    uh,er,uh the same thing that is behind his Union and special interest payoffs, er, uh votes that can be bought!

    July 1, 2010 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  8. Capt. Snarky

    I fail to see why our immigration system needs "reform". We have a system of laws in place – we just need to enforce them. I've no issue with individuals from other countries wanting to become Americans – the U.S. is the greatest nation on earth – I just want immigrants to come here LEGALLY. If you can't respect the immigration laws of the nation that you are emmigrating to, why do you think you deserve to become a citizen of that nation?

    With this push for "Immigration Reform"he Administration is just pandering to the Latino community, hoping to increase it's voting bloc.

    "Immigration Reform" = Amnesty

    We did that before, and it hasn't stopped the flood of illegals, has it?

    July 1, 2010 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  9. Bingo

    President Obama using campaigning, particularly against President Bush, as a distraction from his lack of progress or effectiveness in governing. What we need is not comprehensive immigration reform but comprehensive immigration enforcement. If the current administration and Congress refuse to enforce the immigration laws that we have on the books today, we should we trust them to enforce new immigration laws tomorrow? Prove you can do the job for which you are responsible (i.e., seal the borders) first, then seek additional jobs.

    July 1, 2010 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  10. Gordon Shumway

    Obama just wants to put another nail in the coffin of what used to be the United States before the November election when he becomes a lame duck.

    July 1, 2010 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  11. Ron

    If you are here legally we are glad you are here and hopefully you succeed in all your ventures. If you are here illegally then GET THE HELL OUT!! You want us to welcome you with open arms when the FIRST thing you did when you got here was break our U.S. laws? NO!! GET OUT!!

    Once that is done THEN we can talk about those who want to come to the U.S. and if we can justify that we need what they have to offer then can start the proces of entering. However, those that broke our laws the first day they arrived we don't want.

    Obama doesn't realize the hornets nest he is stirring with his push to let those who broke our laws to stay. Keep pushing "Mr. President". Just keep pushing............Then you will see an uprising never seen before in history.......

    July 1, 2010 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  12. Augsbee

    Bottom line, this is not about securing, protecting our country againt illegal entry, making people apply to enter our country legally, this not about the good of our country.

    To me, this whole immigration issue is about Votes that will get me into the White House, talk about putting a price on our country.

    July 1, 2010 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  13. Susan

    I can list many reasons, but just to name a few, he is trying to distract us from the high unemployment numbers, the sinking economy, the Gulf oil disaster clean up, and of course, the November election just might motivate this amnesty push. He loves to hear himself talk and of course, he is smarter and knows what is better for us "little people".

    July 1, 2010 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  14. Bill from GA

    We need to enforce the laws we now have; close the borders, and lock up and fine anyone hiring illegal workers. Let the wages rise to fill jobs with legal workers. That might cut down on unemployment.

    No one who entered this country illegally should get citizenship unless they go to the back of the line, which starts in their home country.

    July 1, 2010 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
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