Among undocumented immigrants and activists working on their behalf, President Obama’s decision to wait until after November’s elections to make promised changes to immigration policy provoked raw anger.
One group called the president’s decision “an affront” to migrant families. Another said Obama had “prioritized politics over reform.”
An immigration lawyer said her clients had been “sold out,” and one longtime activist burst into tears when asked how the decision might affect his friends and family…
“There’s a sense that whenever this community gets close to finally getting some relief — rather than more fear and more deportations and more detentions — that we get sent to the back of the bus,” Sharry said. “It’s never convenient to help out Latinos.”
The announcement left Esquivel, and millions of other undocumented immigrants, feeling like a political volleyball.
“I feel like I am caught in a political game,” the Phoenix woman said. “It’s like a game of volleyball. … I have been counting the days. What’s going to happen?”…
“Announcing that you’re going to wait until after the election itself just smacks of politics,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., told The Arizona Republic on Saturday. “People already assumed this, but it’s just unfortunate.”…
This is a reoccurring theme for Obama: repeatedly delivering bold speeches that set dazzlingly high bars for action, then slowly backpedaling into a muddle and letting the issue — and his poll numbers — fade away.
From his 2008 campaign pledge to ban lobbyists in his administration to the speech he gave at the Newtown memorial service saying he was finally going to do something significant about gun control, Saturday’s announcement was another little splinter in the heartbreak for many Obama true believers…
Even as a matter of political tactics, there’s a level of resignation to being exasperated with the White House, which has chalked up the change of course in part to the fallout from the unaccompanied minors border crisis over the summer.
“The truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem,” Obama said in the “Meet the Press” interview.
But it’s not as if the White House wasn’t aware of the crisis when Obama threw down the gauntlet in the Rose Garden: the first half of his remarks that afternoon was devoted to addressing the situation and initial steps he was directing his administration to take in response.
One problem that the president and Democrats face is that Hispanic voters are much less likely to vote than other demographic groups — and that’s especially true of voters in the states that will determine whether or not Democrats hold the Senate.
Obama’s political calculus was simple. In the states he — or, more accurately, his party, is most worried about this fall, taking action on immigration almost certainly wouldn’t be rewarded with more votes. Everywhere else, the gap between white and Hispanic turnout is likely to be even larger than it was two years ago.
The thing about politics is that, at its heart, it’s all math. And the math was against reform in 2014.
Worried about alienating Hispanic voters, few Democrats publicly voiced their concern about making such a potentially controversial move as Democrats fought to retain control of the Senate. But the anxiety — confined, at first, to the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents — spread far beyond the key battleground states.
Public and private polling showed that unilateral action on immigration would harm Democrats locked in tight races in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Alaska. If Democrats lost control of the Senate, immigration would be blamed for the defeat, the newly installed Republican Congress would attempt to overturn the order and the rest of the Obama presidency would look even bleaker.
Democrats also thought they risked doing long-term damage to immigration reform, similar to the way a controversial gun control law was blamed for the 1994 Republican landslide or the health care law contributed to the loss of the House in 2010 — forever polarizing the issue…
Senior administration officials privately blamed Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York for creating the expectation that Obama should take steps by the end of the summer.
Todd Gaziano of the libertarian-leaning Pacific Legal Foundation told Right Turn, “I’m torn as to whether it is a greater or lesser affront to rule of law principles that the President indicates that he will take unilateral executive action on immigration but only announce what action after the fall election.” Gaziano continued, “If he had respect for the democratic process and he has no intention of changing his executive actions, then he should obviously announce what they are and let congressional candidates disclose whether they support such policies and think they are lawful. But if he is as truly cowed by the outcry he expects by announcing such policies early, perhaps the political process will work to produce similar statements and results, and the President may actually reconsider any actions that are illegal.”
There is likely one sentiment that nearly all political watchers and officials can agree upon. “It is a bizarre White House announcement, whatever the outcome,” as Gaziano put it.
It’s good for immigrants—but it may not be good for long-term immigration politics. There’s no question that the immigrants granted legal status by the move would benefit. But I’m less confident that it will have a positive effect on the immigration debate as a whole. Sweeping unilateral executive action on such a controversial issue could well polarize the immigration debate further, and make it harder to find a workable, sustainable long-term solution.
It’s not a perfect parallel, but you can look at what has happened with Obamacare, another big-deal policy that was passed with no bipartisan support over the loud objections of the opposition party. Democrats thought that opposition would quickly fade, but it hasn’t. Instead, it’s settled in. To a lesser extent, the same dynamic has played out with climate change. Democrats have pushed for sweeping legislation and unilateral executive action, and Republican opposition, which had softened somewhat during the Bush era, has intensified.
A one-man diktat timed to avoid democratic accountability is the opposite of sustainable. It is guaranteed to promote more political strife and polarization. And it will make a bipartisan compromise on immigration less likely by playing into the hands of the GOP restrictionists.
Given Mr. Obama’s track record, that may be his intention. In 2012 he unilaterally rewrote the law to block deportations of immigrants who were brought here illegally as children through no fault of their own. He then used the issue against the flat-footed Mitt Romney. But Mr. Obama’s executive action made it harder for pro-immigration Republicans in this Congress to ratify even that small reform because conservatives argued that Mr. Obama would refuse to obey any immigration enforcement they passed along with it.
Mr. Obama may be trying something similar now with a goal of electing a Democratic successor in 2016. His delay might spare red-state Democrats from voter accountability. But his unilateral action after November would further inflame the restrictionist right, make a bipartisan compromise less likely no matter which party controls the Senate next year, and divide Republicans over how to handle millions of illegal immigrants who Mr. Obama has decreed can stay.
Obama’s decision — and the re-thinking of that decision — on immigration will echo for many his famous/infamous declaration of a “red line” against Syria and its use of chemical weapons. In both situations, Obama imposed a set of deadlines on himself that political and policy realities eventually made meeting virtually impossible. (Sidebar: This same sort of danger in deadline/expectation setting is what brought Rick Perry low in that famous/infamous “oops” debate of the 2012 campaign. Never say you are going to name a list of things unless you know said list stone cold.)
And, in promising action prior to the election only to delay it for (at least what appears to be) largely political reasons, Obama has ensured that Republicans can keep the issue alive in the midterms no matter what. “Make no mistake: President Obama plans to grant amnesty, it’s just that he will cynically wait until after the election so as not to harm Senate Democrats like Jeanne Shaheen,” said former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who is challenging Shaheen this fall, in a statement Saturday morning.
President Obama has done his party no favors with how he handled the timing of his executive action on immigration.
Once you see through the political fog on the immigration debate, you realize that Republican presidents are a better bet for delivering reform…
First, ignore what politicians say and watch what they do. Democrats campaign as soft on illegal immigrants, but they’re tough on them once in office. Republicans campaign as tough on illegal immigrants, but they’re soft on them once in office.
Second, look at history. In 1986, it was a Republican president, Ronald Reagan, who signed an “amnesty” bill into law. Twenty years later, it was another Republican, George W. Bush, who boldly kicked off the modern debate over comprehensive immigration reform by proposing legal status for the undocumented. Meanwhile, it was a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who militarized the border with Operation Gatekeeper in 1994 and signed a 1996 immigration law that made it easier to deport people and harder to return…
Third, understand human nature. Republicans don’t love immigrants. But they love business, and business loves immigrants. Meanwhile, Democrats don’t hate immigrants. But they love unions, and unions hate immigrants.
“I’ve called the president, I’ve called the White House, and I expect we will be meeting this week so we can continue,” Gutiérrez said.
“So I am going to go back to the drawing board,” he added.