Obama’s SOTU Could Be A Big Deal For Immigration Reform — Really

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Democrats expect President Barack Obama to strike a conciliatory tone on immigration reform Tuesday night when he delivers his State of the Union address, as a sign of good faith after Republican leadership has cracked open the door for a compromise on the issue.

“The president is going to be very respectful to the Republican initiatives to find bipartisan support for immigration reform,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters. “I think you’ll see a conciliatory approach.”

The issue has been left for dead countless times because House Republicans appear uninterested in taking up the bipartisan comprehensive bill passed by the Senate last year and have shown little urgency in advancing their own preferred piecemeal series of bills. But new reports this week on House GOP leadership’s thinking suggest that they might be seriously considering advancing the issue in their chamber.

With those recent developments in mind, House Democrats told reporters Tuesday that they anticipate Obama will be “respectful” of the GOP’s apparent thawing in his State of the Union. They don’t believe he’ll challenge Republicans on the issue, make too explicit demands or announce any executive orders that would indicate he plans to circumvent Congress on immigration policy.

Multiple reports in the last week have said that Speaker John Boehner will release a statement of principles on immigration reform at the GOP’S annual retreat later this week. It could be as short as one page, but Democrats take it as one of the more encouraging signs yet that House Republicans are actually serious about trying to pass reforms.

What will it actually say? The New York Times reported that it would include some form of legalization — but not a path to citizenship — for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States. It is expected to include an opportunity for citizenship for those brought here illegally as children. Border security and an expanded guest-worker program are likely to be some of the GOP’s other priorities.

But the outstanding question is whether Boehner can corral any kind of consensus among his members. If he can’t, the statement of principles might ultimately be nothing more than a show of ostensible action to avoid the political backlash that has put Republicans in such an electoral hole with minorities.

But Democrats are trying to be optimistic about the GOP’s leadership intentions, which helps explain why Obama might go easy on the issue that is likely the last chance for his White House to secure a significant legislative achievement.

“I’m glad that they seem to be getting more serious about putting forward principles,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) said when asked about the new GOP movement by TPM. “I don’t take a cynical view of what they’re doing.”

The issue is far from resolved, even if Obama extends a rhetorical olive branch Tuesday night. House Democrats, who Boehner would likely need to help pass a bill, are staunchly opposed to any plan that does not include a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants currently in the country.

But acts of good faith from both sides, in Obama’s respectful tone and the Republican pledge to outline some semblance of a plan, are the most promising signs in a long time for an issue routinely written off in the last year.

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