Politics

White House: National Debate Needed Before Obama Amnesty

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama wants a national debate on immigration, says his spokesman Josh Earnest.

The new call for a debate suggests that the president is abandoning — or at least delaying — his high-risk promise to Latino advocates that he would provide work permits to millions of illegal immigrants in the weeks before the election.

The president “wants to have a debate about the status of our immigration system, and what the consequences are for allowing a broken immigration to persist [and] what Republicans have done, or in this case, have not done, to try to confront that problem,” Earnest said.

Supporters of increased immigration are increasingly worried Obama will ditch them at the altar.  “Keep your promise, take action, be strong and have faith that leaning into this issue is the right thing to do – policy-wise and politically,” said a statement from Frank Sharry, one of the leading progressive advocates for increased immigration, and a founder of America’s Voice.

“Hanging back out of fear is what the Republicans want [and] taking action to address our broken and unjust immigration system is what the majority of Americans want,” Sharry claimed in an Aug. 29 midday statement.

Americans have been debating immigration for decades, and polls consistently show that Americans simultaneously want to welcome immigrants, receive fewer immigrants and see fewer short-term guest workers. Nonetheless, business groups and progressives have repeatedly used low-profile regulatory and administrative changes to sharply increase the supply of low-wage workers and Democratic-leaning citizens in the United States.

Earnest also hinted the president wants to make the Senate’s June 2013 immigration bill a major issue in the November election.

“The president wants to make sure the context of that debate is understood in that there is a reasonable, commonsense proposal that has already been passed in a bipartisan fashion through the Senate and would pass the House if House Republicans weren’t blocking it,” he said.

But the Senate bill is is problematic for Democrats. It would roughly double the inflow of foreign workers and immigrants to almost four million per year. That increase would annually provide companies with almost one new foreign worker for every 18-year-old American who enters the workforce. In its defense, the bill’s advocates say it would boost tax receipts, increase spending on border security and move the nation toward a national E-Verify system.

Roughly 12 million illegals are now living in the United States, with little fear of removal. Since 2009, Obama has reduced enforcement of immigration law, and in 2013, fewer than 0.5 percent of the illegals were repatriated for immigration violations.

Since House Republicans blocked the Senate bill, Obama has repeatedly promised advocates and business groups that he would unilaterally provide some sort of amnesty — complete with work-permits — to millions of the illegals by the end of summer.

But numerous polls show that Obama’s plan is opposed by swing voters, Republicansblue-collar voters and by many Hispanics, partly because many Americans are worried an amnesty would harm job opportunities and wages for themselves, their husbands and children. Unsurprisingly, GOP politicians such as Rep. Tom Cotton and Scott Brown are using the immigration issue to boost their poll ratings.

Also, Obama’s unilateral plan is rhetorically opposed by Senate Democrats, including the incumbent Senators now challenged by Cotton and Brown.

Prior to this week, Obama’s officials have consistently said he wanted to implement the amnesty plan before the fall elections.

“The President has been pretty transparent about saying, look, by the end of the summer ‘I’m going to consider a review that’s been conducted by the [Attorney General] and the Secretary of Homeland Security, and I’m going to take what steps are within the confines of the law for me to mitigate some of problems that are posed by the broken immigration system,’” Earnest said Aug. 4.

But Obama hinted Thursday that he would delay the amnesty plan. ”Our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed, and my preference continues to be that Congress act,” he said in a press conference.

“Hope springs eternal that after the midterm elections, they may act. In the meantime [before the election], what I’ve asked [Homeland Security Secretary] Jeh Johnson to do, is to look at what kind of executive authorities we have in order to make the system work better,” he stated.

In prior controversies, Obama has obscure his political retreat from unpopular policies by calling for debates.

For example, in 2013, when George Zimmerman was found innocent on charge of shooting Trayvon Martin, Obama called for others to engage in a national debate in lieu of him pushing unpopular federal intervention. When Obama backed away from his 2013 threats to bomb Syria, he called for Congress to debate whether nation should go to war in Syria.

According to a new Pew survey, Obama’s immigration policies have 31 percent approval and 61 percent disapproval. A late July poll by AP showed he had 18 percent strong approval, and 57 percent strong disapproval.

But continued debate is unlikely to shift public option towards Obama. Since 2007, progressives and business groups have spent at least $1.5 billion to overcome public opposition to cheap imported labor. Despite the spending, and despite cooperation from the media, progressives, and many top GOP politicians, public attitudes have become more pro-American since 2012.

 

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