For three days, I’ve anguished over my personal take on President Barack Obama’s recent immigration speech. I wanted to say that the ubiquitous . media . interpretation . that it was merely a campaign event aimed at Latino voters was a lazy, short-sighted and offensive trope. I still think that: reporters should write about issues first and guess at politicians’ intentions second.
If you’ll allow me to quote my own unpublished blog post, it contained things like this:
But at the same time, he humanized the immigrant struggle, acknowledging that many of the record number of deportations under his watch have broken up families and denied futures to undocumented youth brought to the United States by their parents. We think we know which side of the fence Obama is on—he has written of his father’s immigrant past and speaks passionately about the central role of the immigrant in U.S. history.
Good thing I didn’t hit publish too quickly. I still think that hanging an article about a presidential speech on the presumed politics of the speech is lame—when is coverage of anti-abortion legislation or pro-gun legislation ever framed/dismissed as campaigning? And I think the media (speaking in broad generalities here) takes shortcuts with immigration stories because it is a controversial issue to cover and because many reporters don’t think that Latinos are watching. But I think that Obama is also playing a very dangerous game here, though I don’t think he’s doing it haphazardly.
It is significant that Obama took a strong stand on immigration reform (again) and that he’s making it his first major 2012 campaign issue, and I think it shows that he believes in the Dream Act, reuniting families, visa reform and a legalization program. It also shows that he trusts that the American public supports all of those things and even that he thinks he can move people who are not quite there yet into the pro-immigration camp. Hell, he even thinks he can bring the likes of John McCain along, as evidenced by this photo below, which comes straight out of Obama’s new Blueprint for Building a 21st Century Immigration System:
But Obama’s actions thus far in his presidency do not demonstrate the increasing urgency of the immigration stalemate for people caught up in the system, as Rep. Luis Gutierrez, among many others, have been saying.
Obama is highly strategic in his own right—though more so campaigning than governing—and the El Paso speech revealed the depth of his strategy. I believe that Obama waited patiently for about two years to be able to use this line:
“We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. All the stuff they asked for, we’ve done. But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I’ve got to say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time.”
For the past two years, leading up to that speech, he was busy hiring Janet Napolitano, quietly ramping up deportations, wasting money on a border fence, putting more “boots on the ground” and changing tactics on workplace enforcement. That’s meant two more years of delays for immigrants and their families, for college students who don’t have papers and would be eligible for the Dream Act (reintroduced this week), for most of the couples in Amor and Exile. For people directly affected by “the broken immigration system” it’s the long, long, long view.
I hope that his two year old strategy includes a way to strong arm 25 House GOP votes for the Dream Act in the next few months. If not, it would seem the media reports are true and that Obama is tooting an empty horn.
Here is the speech, in case you missed it: