President Barack Obama used a campaign-style rally in Las Vegas to portray himself as a champion for immigrants, and to style an immigration rewrite as a rejuvenation of the nation’s stalled economy.
The pitch also acknowledged the opposition of Americans who worry that immigration will disadvantage American blue-collar workers and middle-income professionals.
“The closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become,” he said.
“Immigration always inflames passions … [and prior immigrants] faced racism, they faced ridicule,” said Obama.
He speech at Del Sol High School was loudly applauded by the mostly Hispanic audience, reflecting their recognition of Obama’s support for immigrants.
“I’m here today because the time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform. (Applause.) The time is now. Now is the time. Now is the time. Now is the time,” Obama said, according to the White House transcript.
“Sí se puede! Sí se puede!” the audience chanted.
His repetition of that phrase mimics dialog from the much-praised movie, “Lincoln,” in which the actor playing Abraham Lincoln tells his allies to push “now” for a constitutional amendment to end slavery.
Some immigration advocates — including Democratic representatives — worried the president’s pitch would inflame GOP opposition to the pending rewrites. They worry that Obama wants to use the issue for near-term advantage by spurring an anti-GOP vote by Hispanic voters in the 2014 midterm election.
In contrast, Hispanic groups want to pass a bill that would provide residency or citizenship to millions of Latinos and other immigrants. Business groups just want work permits for new workers.
Obama did not use his speech to demand that any immigration rewrite grant gays and lesbians the right to bring in foreign partners. White House officials have said they support that controversial measure, which some immigration advocates fear would damage the bill’s prospects.
“Something like that LGBT issue would have been a poison pill,” said Ana Navarro, an advocate who helped Sen. John McCain seek Hispanic votes in 2008.
In 2008, McCain won 31 percent of the Latino vote, despite McCain’s prominent push for an major immigration bill that would have allowed 11 million illegal immigrants to stay in the county.”