For the last several weeks, in Washington and the nation’s immigrant communities, the assumption was that President Obama would circumvent Congress and use his executive power to spare millions of illegal immigrants from deportation by offering them temporary legal status.
The assumption was wrong. As I’ve maintained for months, this rumored plan to overhaul the immigration system through an executive order is not going to materialize. Not after the November elections, and not at any point during this administration.
The details of exactly what Obama would do and how many people stood to get legal status were unsettled. But the message was clear: Obama was finally ready to keep a promise made long ago to deliver immigration reform—and primed to go it alone. The president said as much in late June, when he declared his frustration with congressional inaction on the issue and vowed to do whatever he could to fix the problem.
Both the left and the right pushed the idea that Obama would go around Congress and issue an executive order—albeit for different reasons.
On the left, immigration advocates, aided by the liberal print and broadcast media, wanted to believe the president would take action because they still hoped that Obama could be a champion for progressive causes, and because executive action would show up Republicans in Congress who had refused to take up the immigration bill passed last year by the Senate.
On the right, immigration restrictionists, with a helping hand from conservative talk radio, pushed the line that what they called “amnesty” was on the way because it played into the larger narrative that the federal government was overriding the will of the people. This helped rally the troops and raise funds for anti-immigration organizations.
There have been dozens of stories in the last few weeks suggesting that some sort of executive relief for the undocumented was just around the corner.
An August 9 editorial in The New York Times, titled “Mr. Obama, Your Move,” suggested that some kind of executive action was a done deal and then offered the president a roadmap: “The most obvious thing is to lift the threat of deportation from immigrants who should be the lowest priority for removal: those with citizen children, jobs, clean records and strong community ties. Some reports put the size of that group at four million to five million.”
Now, just a few weeks later, there is no need for roadmaps. The President and White House officials are signaling that any executive action will have to wait until after the November elections.
And wait, and wait. Here are seven reasons why we shouldn’t expect Obama to “go it alone” on immigration before or after Election Day:
— THE BACKLASH. Those who root for executive action by Obama always seem to forget the downside: the potential for ballot box retribution toward Democrats, including vulnerable Senate Democrats. According to the polls, many Americans are still uncomfortable with the idea of rewarding lawbreakers by letting them stay in the U.S. legally. If Obama legalizes millions of people this close to November, it’ll turn Election 2014 on its head and could flip the Senate to Republican hands. You can bet that Obama doesn’t want that on his head.
— THERE IS NO POLITICAL BENEFIT. The constituency most clamoring for executive action has already shown they expect little and will settle for nothing. Latinos have proven they’re a cheap date for Democrats, and willing to be fooled by Obama. In 2012, after he had already broken his promise to make immigration reform a top priority and deported 1.5 million people, Latino voters still gave him 70 percent of their votes. What’s the incentive to stick your neck out to please a group that is so easily pleased with nothing?
— LATINOS ARE DIVIDED. Obama may have already figured out that even Latinos aren't of one mind on immigration reform. Cuban-Americans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans don’t care much about it; Mexicans and Mexican-Americans do. Many Mexicans aren’t citizens and can’t vote, and Mexican-Americans are divided—again. Some consider immigration reform a deal breaker for supporting Obama and Democrats, others don’t.
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