By Reynold N. Mason
During his 2008 campaign for the Presidency of the United States, Mr. Obama promised an end to congressional gridlock and politics a usual. He said he would push for secure borders, increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and remove incentives to illegal entry. Most importantly, he promised a path to citizenship in any reform proposal, for undocumented immigrants living here.
But as of today, the President has not taken up the issue of immigration reform. Scared off like a gazelle spying a lion near his watering hole, he has taken cover in the thicket of election year politics. “Congress”, he says “does not have the “appetite” for comprehensive immigration reform at this time. Supporters say the issue of immigration reform has simmered for years on the back burner of American politics and Obama’s predecessors did not have the courage to face it head on. So why should he? He should; otherwise he will be seen as nothing more than the typical politician mouthing promises he has no intention of keeping; as one who heads for the hills at the echo of the first salvo in the battle he is sworn to fight. His Hispanic supporters, to whom he has given illusions of hope, will desert him; the anti-immigration forces will play to the fear and insecurity of the populace, and all hope for immigration reform will be doomed, perhaps for years to come, and the vicious cycle of try and fail, begun by Regan in 1986, will begin all over again.
All politics is local
Surely there are challenges to immigration reform. But face them the President must. Republicans, with enough votes in the Senate to stall an Obama push for immigration reform, must be persuaded to join the fight. The president must lead. He must persuade those who feel that other pressing matters now pending before congress should be given precedence over immigration reform, to join the fight. He must convince democratic bench warmers that they will pay a political price for frolicking into other issues while the issue of illegal immigration is tearing the country apart and eroding the bulwarks of traditional democratic support. Frustration, disappointment and disillusionment will drive the Hispanic voting bloc and its sympathizers away from the Democratic Party.
The electorate is energized as never before, and the decision to oppose or support reform will have immediate political consequences. John McCain, an erstwhile supporter of immigration reform who, with the late Senator Ted Kennedy, sponsored the Kennedy-McCain immigration bill in 2005, has seen the handwriting on the wall. To the surprise on many, he has voiced his support for the “papers please or I’ll arrest you” Arizona immigration law passed last April, making life difficult for undocumented immigrants in that state. Since then, he has increased his led over his challenger for his senate seat, according to Public Policy Poll. (PPP). Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, who signed the law, has since surged in the polls increasing her support from 53 percent to 73 percent among Republicans, overtaking all challengers. In 2004, McCain won re-election with 74 percent Hispanic support. Today, according to PPP, his support has fallen to 10 percent with Latino voters. The same survey found that Arizona Attorney General Goddard, the democratic nominee for governor, will lose to the republicans in a match up. Goddard opposed the new Arizona law.
In California too, Meg Whitman, candidate for governor has seen her lead in the polls evaporate under a withering attach from her opponent, Mr. Posner, who has attacked her on her opposition to the Arizona law. Now, Ms Whitman says,” I am 100 percent against amnesty. Period” The pressure on politicians in the local races has pushed unprincipled and opportunistic demagogues to shift their stance on immigration to take advantage of the anti -immigration mood of voters, and this has led to several states passing laws restricting immigration and making life more difficult for the undocumented. Riding the wave of public opinion, Sarah Palin weighed in last Wednesday on Fox saying ”I think every other state on the border should emulate what Arizona has done” Many have.
Past Presidents have gambled on immigration reform and lost. The most recent being Bush 44 whose plan went down in defeat in 2007. The question is, after the battle to pass health care, the unpopular economic stimulus and, keeping in mind the sordid history of past efforts at immigration reform, do Obama, Reid and Pelosi have the political will to take on immigration reform? According to an article by Reuben Navarrette on CNN.Com on line, the Obama administration is quietly laying the groundwork for immigration reform next year that includes amnesty. But the Hill News reported last week, that Ms. Pelosi plans to await senate action before taking up the issue. She clearly fears negative voter reaction and backlash against vulnerable democrats seeking re-election this November. She can run for cover but she cannot hide. She must face the issue . She must work to placate organized labor which opposes the guess worker plan and soldier with the President in this fight.
The President’s task is formidable, but he must not shirk his responsibility. He must lead his party in this fight to pass immigration reform, and he must persuade Republicans, playing to their conservative base, to join the fight. He must put immigration reform at the top of his political agenda, and he must stop paying lip service to immigration reform to score points with Hispanics. “I don’t have 60 votes in the senate” will not excuse his failure to act, and act soon. He must use his bully-pulpit for all it’s worth, and push reluctant democrats to lend him support. He persuaded Bart Stupak to lay aside his distaste for abortion funding and support health care legislation; he can persuade reluctant democrats to support him in his push to pass comprehensive immigration reform. “The fact is that the president of the United States came to office, in large part, because he supports wholesale reform of the immigration system. It’s time for him to make his promise a reality," says Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., the rest of the country echoes his call for action.