President Barack Obama promised Dec. 30 to introduce an immigration bill during 2013, but activists on all sides of the debate are trying to understand his strategy.
He may be gunning for a victory in the mid-term elections by introducing a bill so radical that it will spark an emotional controversy from whites, which would then spur many angry Latinos to vote Democratic in the 2014 midterm elections, said Robert de Posada, former head of a GOP-affiliated group, The Latino Coalition.
“The word that I’ve heard from many, is [that he will] submit a very, very liberal plan that most Republicans will not support, that most southern and moderate Democrats will not support,” he said.
When the bill fails, “they can announce once again that they tried [and that Latinos] need to rally in the next election,” said Posada, who helped President George W. Bush win 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, during the housing boom.
But that strategy would break Obama’s election-trail promise to help Latinos, said one Hill staffer who is working to pass an ambitious bill that would eventually provide citizenship to millions of Democratic-leaning, low-skill Latinos and their extended relations.
However, he noted, Obama hasn’t met with Democratic Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the leading Capitol Hill advocate for amnesty for illegal immigrants, since November.
“We don’t quite know what the White House is doing,” he said.
Obama sketched his 2013 plans during a low-pressure interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.
“I’ve said that fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority,” he told interviewer David Gregory, who is now under police investigation for violating D.C. law by brandishing a 30-bullet magazine on his Dec. 23 show.
“I will introduce legislation in the first year to get that done,” Obama said.
“I think we have talked about it long enough. We know how we can fix it. We can do it in a comprehensive way that the American people support. That’s something we should get done.”
Gregory did not challenge any of Obama’s claims, nor did he question Obama about how his bill would impact the high unemployment rate among low-skilled Americans, especially African-Americans, in a an increasingly high-tech economy.
However, Obama’s language suggested that increased Latino immigration is a lower priority for him than other measures, and that he’s concerned any revamp would fail because of public opposition.
Many previous immigration reform bills have died when leading supporters quietly backed away amid furious public opposition to what was perceived as an attempt at a general amnesty. In 2007, then-Sen. Obama voted against a temporary-worker provision in a pending immigration bill, helping kill the overall legislation.
During his first term as president, Obama declined to push a comprehensive immigration bill, despite promising such a revamp while on the 2008 campaign trail.
In his NBC interview, Obama showed more enthusiasm about other priorities.
“We’ve got a huge opportunity around energy,” he said, “The most immediate thing I’ve got to do … is make sure that taxes are not going up on middle class families,” he claimed. Another priority, he added, is “rebuilding our infrastructure, which is broken.”