Last week, many in the immigrant community were disappointed by the vague reference that President Obama made to immigration reform in his State of the Union address. Earlier today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs passed up an opportunity to clarify why President Obama chose to so opaquely iterate his commitment to immigration reform. However, he did seem to indicate that the administration’s position hasn’t changed:
REPORTER: In his speech last week, the President mentioned immigration in passing, but didn’t go into detail. That obviously disappointed advocates who were hoping there was weight behind a comprehensive bill that would include legalization. So my question is, if this is such a priority for him this year, why not go stake out a specific position?
GIBBS: I think the President’s position on immigration reform and what he supports is enormously clear. He campaigned on it, he worked on legislation I think is quite similar to what would come up this year in the House or the Senate with people like John McCain or Lindsey Graham in 2005 and 2006 in the Senate. Like climate change there are bipartisan efforts that are ongoing to bring legislation like this to the fore and to create bipartisan majorities to get it passed. The president hosted a meeting here not too long ago to keep that process going and we look forward to taking part in it.
According to Gibbs, the question isn’t whether President Obama still supports passing comprehensive immigration reform, but rather, whether the White House can be convinced that there is enough bipartisan support to get it passed. A recent affirmative statement from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) indicates that at least one key GOP member is reaching out to his colleagues and encouraging them to embrace the immigration issue. Meanwhile, the majority of Republican and Independent voters already support comprehensive immigration reform.
Ultimately, immigration has always come at the end of a long list of priorities and promises that President Obama optimistically pledged would be realized within his first couple years in office. Immigration advocates who would like to see the issue addressed in 2010 have already pointed out that immigration reform has become “low-hanging fruit” on a legislative tree that has fewer and fewer branches. Yet it’s perhaps even more critical to emphasize how immigration would fit into Obama’s broader policy agenda in terms of creating jobs, growing the Democratic Party, minimizing losses in 2010, and removing an obstructive wedge that has plagued American politics for decades.