Immigration Reform and the Latino Vote

Posted on July 13, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The road to electoral success this November is hardly a smooth one for President Obama and the Democrats. Republicans enter the campaign season eyeing a variety of issues on which they believe the Democrats are vulnerable, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the softness of the economic recovery and a controversial health care reform law among them.

So why, then, would the president toss another highly emotional issue into the mix by calling for comprehensive immigration reform at a time when states like Arizona have become so fed up with illegal immigration that they are passing their own laws to try and fill the void? In a recent speech at the American University School of International Service in Washington, Obama vowed to push forward with the sweeping reform of America’s immigration laws he promised as a candidate in 2008.

“In sum, the system is broken. And everybody knows it. Unfortunately, reform has been held hostage to political posturing and special-interest wrangling -– and to the pervasive sentiment in Washington that tackling such a thorny and emotional issue is inherently bad politics,” Obama said, in effect framing the obvious question, why tackle an issue that comes with “inherently bad politics?”

Obama even singled out 11 Republican senators, including the GOP’s point man on the issue Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who supported reform in the past, but have since walked away from the issue “under the pressures of partisanship and election-year politics.”

Obama also upped the immigration ante when he authorized Attorney General Eric Holder to file a law suit challenging the legitimacy of the Arizona law, which gives police new powers to seek information from those they suspect of being in the country illegally.

Why?

“I think they actually believe that, in a righteous, lawyerly way, the federal government had to step forward and assert federal authority here,” Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks, told the Arizona Republican.”But I also think it’s a pretty naked play for Latino voters. To me, it was a risky and troubling move.”

According to the immigration reform advocacy group America’s Voice, 78% of Latino voters said the immigration issue is important to them and 71% of respondents trusted Obama to “do the right thing” on immigration issues. So mobilizing Latino voters, who were good to Obama and the Democrats in 2008, is essential to success this fall.

White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked about Obama’s motivation recently. “The president,” he said, “believes we have to have comprehensive immigration reform and I don’t think that just Latinos hold that…viewpoint or that position.” In the next breath, Gibbs give his response a partisan spin: “I think we’d all be better served if the 20 Republicans would sit down with Democrats in the House and the Senate, and we could come up with something on comprehensive immigration reform that the president and members of Congress can see acted upon so that we can solve this problem.”

Whatever the motivation, immigration reform is clearly a worthy goal that has eluded advocates for years. It’s possible that the growing number of Latino voters in the U.S. could help prod both sides toward compromise and consensus. Obama says he is ready.

“I’m ready to move, the majority of Democrats are ready to move, and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move,” Obama said. “But the fact is that without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem.”

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