Obama Tries to Revive Far-Reaching Immigration Reform

May 10, 2011 2:00 am

President Obama will deliver a speech in Texas Tuesday intended to revive interest in a far-reaching approach to immigration, one of the nation’s most divisive political issues.

The White House hopes to use the speech to “create a sense of urgency in Congress and the nation,” according to a senior administration official. With a divided Congress and fewer advocates for comprehensive immigration than in 2007, the last time Congress tried to push through a comprehensive immigration solution, the speech undoubtedly will do more to reaffirm Obama’s commitment to a key voting block in 2012 than to gain any legislative traction on Capitol Hill.The President campaigned in 2008 on a pledge to produce a broad immigration bill in his first year in office but has failed to deliver on that promise. In recent months, Obama has tried to revitalize interest in the issue, and has met with Latino celebrities, including actress Eva Longoria, law enforcement officials and other stakeholders to discuss ways to overcome Congressional gridlock.

In El Paso Tuesday Obama will address the nation’s immigration problems in a speech at the Chamizal National Memorial, the site created to commemorate the peaceful settlement of a century-long boundary dispute between Mexico and the United States in 1963.

Obama will stress his administration’s record of increasing security on the U.S.-Mexican border, and given these strides, will argue the U.S. has the opportunity and obligation to fix a problem that Congress has long struggled to address, according to senior administration officials.

“Over the past two years this administration has dedicated more resources to securing the border than ever before,” an official told reporters on a conference call Monday, noting that the number of border-control agents have more than doubled during Obama’s time in office. “These are the most sustained and serious actions in securing our Southwest border in our nation’s history.”

The speech also will focus on the economic benefits of creating a path for citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already living and working in the United States, as well as those immigrants here on student visas attending U.S. universities and colleges. Obama will not offer detailed legislative remedies in his speech or call for specific deadlines for Congressional action, senior administration officials indicated.

Before the speech, Obama plans to tour the facility at the Bridge of the Americas Port of Entry, the largest of four crossings that comprise the El Paso Port of Entry.

Despite Obama’s best efforts to refocus the nation on the need for comprehensive immigration reform, Latino leaders in Congress consider the effort too little too late. Advocates of immigration reform, had had a tough time getting even piecemeal immigration bills passed.

Last year, even when Democrats controlled both the Senate and the House, Congress could not pass the DREAM Act, a bill aimed at providing upstanding young undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship. With Republicans in charge in the House, there is even less chance of passing immigration legislation this year or next.

In the vacuum, states such as Arizona have passed controversial laws targeting illegal immigrants. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced Monday that she plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling barring some of the more controversial aspects of her state’s new immigration law.

The speech comes as Obama begins a reelection fight focused on states with large Hispanic populations such as Nevada, Colorado and Florida, considered essential to winning a second term. Democratic Party officials are even publicly saying Texas is in play because of its growing Latino population, although they privately acknowledge it’s a long shot.

Meanwhile, polls shows Obama’s support among Latinos is slipping. Sixty-seven percent of Latino voters backed Obama in 2008, but some polls show that his approval rating among Latinos has dipped below 50 percent.

In a press briefing on Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney disputed the idea that Obama was giving the speech to help his reelection chances.

“The most valuable commodity that exists in the West Wing is the President’s time, as you know, everybody here knows. And just look at how much time he’s dedicating to immigration reform. And that should tell you how seriously he is approaching this issue,” he told reporters.

Administration officials have organized specific “community conversations” to follow the speech this week.

On May 11th, business, labor, law enforcement and faith leaders will join senior administration officials for a conference call to recap Obama’s speech and discuss the next appropriate steps.

May 12: Business leaders join U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and Administration officials in Omaha, Nebraska for a roundtable community conversation.

May 12: Steve Case, Founder and former CEO of AOL and chair of the Startup America Partnership joins senior administration officials in a community conversation in Silicon Valley.

May 19: Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) leaders join Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on a national conference call.

May 31: The Albuquerque Hispanic Chamber of Commerce hosts a roundtable with Solis in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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