The contours of President Barack Obama’s immigration reform proposal are beginning to become known now. Several prominent Republican voices immediately voiced their displeasure after the plan was leaked. Senator Marco Rubio said that the proposal would worsen the country’s immigration problems, and Representative Paul Ryan said that the White House should not undermine Congressional efforts to put an immigration reform bill to Obama’s desk.
Some argue that Rubio and Ryan are right. The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein wrote Jan. 28 that the President should stay out of the immigration debate as much as possible. Republicans in general don’t want to upset deeply conservative constituents who would disapprove of immigration reform simply because Obama is involved, Klein writes. By staying out, Klein argues, Obama would enable Republicans to stay in negotiations.
Perhaps Klein’s prediction will turn out to be true, and Obama’s looming presence will prevent an immigration reform bill from passing both chambers of Congress. But I’m not buying it. Mitt Romney only received 27 percent of the Latino vote in 2012, and the Republicans cannot re-emerge as a national party unless it appeals more to them — especially considering that their courting of Black voters is nonexistent. If an immigration bill falters because of Obama’s involvement, it would only serve to reinforce the GOP as a regional party. Sure, those Republicans from conservative districts would get re-elected. But electing someone to the White House in 2016, when the non-white electorate will increase by two percent? That appears less likely.
Obama is making the right move here. He is using the bully pulpit to frame the issue in a good manner. The White House’s plan includes an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (the wait time would be much less for minors). By putting out this plan now, it will seem unreasonable if, for example, Rubio insists on a 10- or 12-year waiting period. The public is largely on Obama’s side; Americans are increasingly supporting his handling of the issue, and a majority of them support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Since Republicans need to offer something to Latino voters and Obama has the public on his side, he isn’t taking a huge risk here.
These last moves demonstrate how Obama has apparently learned from the mistakes of his first term. He did not frame the health care issue much, preferring to leave it up to Congress to craft a plan. But that led the debate to become rather messy and go astray from pertinent issues. Obama isn’t doing that with immigration. In his State of the Union address, Obama spoke about providing for the poor with initiatives like universal pre-school education and a minimum wage increase. He should be framing these issues and building popular support because he has the bully pulpit. Besides, no one can fault Obama for giving up on Congress at this point.