You know what’s a big political risk for President Obama? Health care reform! And yet, he’s on his way to accomplishing that. Know what’s also a big political risk? Immigration reform! But, wowza, he’s apparently willing to make a stab at that. Or is he just lying to Latino activists who supported him during the election?
If that scenario sounds eerily familiar, it should. Obama also promised gay activists he would work to secure LGBT rights. Instead, he’s been busy defending DOMA. But now, “senior White House aides have privately assured Latino activists that the president will back legislation in 2010 to provide a road to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented workers now living in the United States,” reports the Baltimore Sun. “In a conference call with proponents, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, political director Patrick Gaspard and others recently delivered the message that the White House is committed to seeing a substantial immigration bill pass and wants to make sure allies are prepared for the fight.”
This is great news: We, too, are for immigration reform. We want the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already living in the United States to be able to secure some form of citizenship. (Like lawmakers, the editors of this website are still formulating their own opinions about just how far such reform should go.) But as Queerty pointed out earlier this month, to see immigration reform — which attempts to improve the lives of non-citizens — move forward ahead of gay rights legislation — which would improve the lives of American citizens — is a severe slap in the face to the very gay voters who 1) helped put Obama in the White House; 2) ARE AMERICAN CITIZENS ZOMG!
Of course, Obama has other concerns to be worried about.
As recently as the George W. Bush administration, efforts to win congressional approval for coupling the two issues [citizenship for existing immigrants and harder border entry for future ones] were repeatedly stymied. And whatever proposal Obama eventually puts forward is likely to trigger equally determined opposition, especially with next November’s congressional elections looming.
That makes embracing an immigration bill a significant gamble for the White House, which already has job creation, global warming curbs, and new regulations for financial institutions on the agenda for 2010.
Adding to the difficulty, polls show that the public is far more worried about the 10% unemployment rate and the fragile economy than anything else. By pushing an immigration bill, Obama risks appearing out of step with the everyday worries of the typical voter.
Sure, but doesn’t Obama “owe” Latino voters something in this arena? Turns out, yes!
As a presidential candidate, Obama vowed to take up immigration in his first year in office. It’s now too late to make good on that commitment.
If they delay once more, Obama and congressional Democrats could anger the Latino voters who came out in force for them in 2008. Exit polls show Obama won two-thirds of the Latino vote in the 2008 election compared to 31% for his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain.
This becomes a fun game when you start replacing the words “Latino voters” with “gay voters.” Except unlike LGBT rights legislation, immigration reform actually has a shot at bipartisan support.