It’s a measure of the minimal importance that President Obama assigns to enforcing the country’s immigration laws that he waited until this week to deliver his first speech on immigration. When he did, the president merely confirmed what is already common knowledge: the system is broken and there is nothing that his administration will do to fix it.
In equal parts high-minded and disingenuous, the speech at American University was typical of the president’s oratory. Setting himself above the political fray, Obama condemned “special interests” and partisan gridlock for holding immigration reform hostage. But he failed to note that Democrats currently rule both houses of Congress, and that the entire immigration reform effort, with its implicit amnesty for the 11 million illegal immigrants residing in this country, is itself a sop to a large special interest: the growing population of Hispanics that Democrats hope to turn into loyal voters. It was no coincidence that just prior to his speech Obama met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Typical, too, was the president’s reliance on straw men to stifle debate – in this instance, the prospect of mass deportations of illegal immigrants. This in fact is a policy that no serious immigration restrictionists advocate, and its invocation is a convenient way to foreclose serious discussion about enforcement policies that really could reduce the burden of illegal immigration. Similarly, there was the president’s now-routine posturing as a lone pragmatist seeking common-sense solutions. But that Solomonic stance is gravely undermined by the fact that this White House, like its predecessors, has opposed the pragmatic measures – especially credible enforcement and robust border security – that could provide a measure of relief from the problems of mass illegal immigration.
If the president’s speech recycled the more tired tropes of the immigration debate, the real news was that there was no news in the speech. For all the feigned urgency of his remarks, there was no evidence that the president was actually proposing to do anything to deal with the immigration issue. He outlined no specific policies, nor did he propose any specific piece of legislation.
Why then raise the issue at all? Election-year politics would seem to be the chief explanation. The speech seemed intended as a boost to troubled Democratic incumbents, particularly embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Facing a tough rival in Tea Party-backed Republican candidate Sharron Angle, Reid has been actively courting his state’s Hispanics, who comprise 15 percent of the Nevada electorate. By floating the prospect of immigration reform and eventual amnesty, Reid hopes to rally support even in the absence of an actual bill. If that stratagem fails, it won’t be for lack of backing from the White House. No sooner did Obama deliver his speech than he invited Reid for a private and symbolic meeting.
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