“I am not going to give up this fight until it gets done,” said President Barack Obama in a speech on immigration reform at the 37th Annual Awards Gala for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. He went on to describe the success his administration has had in aiding and stemming the tide of unaccompanied minors, a crisis that led to protests across the country and heavy criticism from Republicans in Congress. He also emphasized the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and those DREAMers who have benefited from the chance to remain in the United States, and he’s right to draw attention to the programs success. However his headline point is a problem, and here’s why.
The White House made “I Am Not Going To Give Up This Fight Until It Gets Done” the title of its latest blog post for a reason. It’s very thematically in line with much of Obama’s rhetoric these days. It’s his battle cry as he leads liberals, Democrats, left leaning independents, and the Hispanic constituents he pleaded so convincingly with to get to the polls this midterm election, into battle.
Here’s the problem: He may be leading an angry, pent-up army into battle, and he may have his aim set with fierce consistency on immigration reform, but he’s leading an following armed with dull blades, and his horse only has 200 yards of charging left in it until it runs out of gas. Imagine Braveheart, except halfway through the charge Mel Gibson loses steam, dismounts, and heads for the hills with his blue head hung low.
An incomplete presidential promise
There are unfortunate self-added hole in Obama’s promises. “I’ve said before that if Congress failed to live up to its responsibilities to solve this problem, I would act to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own,” said Obama, brazenly adding, “And I meant what I said. So this is not a question of if, but when.” Meaning it’s a question of when he’ll fix as much of immigration as he can without Congress, which by his own admission, is no fix at all in the long term.
“The fact of the matter is no matter how bold I am, nothing I can do will be as comprehensive or lasting as the Senate bill. Anything I can do can be reversed by the next President,” he said. “To move beyond what I can do in a limited way, we are going to need legislation.” Obama is a far cry from being a lame-duck; it’s why House Speaker John Boehner was so keen to sue him for overstepping his executive power, and it’s why the House of Representatives backed this move.
Obama is fully capable of enacting federal changes via executive orders and additional programs to help reshape the immigration system as it stands today. He has over two years left in office, and there’s still a chance the Senate may retain it’s Democratic majority this fall; key states are still neck and neck and campaign hard. His sword isn’t exactly dull, because his pen isn’t out of ink. Yet he makes a strong point when he says that until Congress passes reform there will be no long lasting and stable overhaul to the current flawed system, and if it the systematic changes Obama can make are easily overthrown by successors he loses a great deal of his legitimacy. You don’t want law written in white board marker if the man next to you have a stone slab and a chisel.
What about Congress?
Congress for its part has given mixed messages on reform. The Democrat led Senate passed a reform bill a year ago, but the House has yet to debate it. While it’s been suggested that the debate might take place next year after the congressional elections decide the partisan balance in the Senate, this is a possibility Boehner hedged with claims that “the American people and their elected officials don’t trust him (Obama) to enforce the law as written.
Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue.” This claim then bled into accusations that the stream of unaccompanied minors in June were Obama’s fault and critiques of his use of executive actions. “President Obama won’t work with us, but is instead intent on going it alone with executive orders that can’t and won’t fix these problems,” said Boehner, making it rather clear that trust may be only half (or less than half) the problem, while the other half is dominated by cut throat elections that leave room for little else.
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- This Is What the U.S. Immigration Problem Looks Like
- Why Economics Might Lose to Politics on Immigration Reform
Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS