Obama to urge immigration increase in White House speech

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama will give a high-profile speech Thursday to revive his top second-term priority — a bill intended to sharply increase immigration.

But he’ll deliver the speech during a week when the advocates’ hope for its passage have dimmed, and when his first term’s highest priority — Obamacare — seems ready to implode amid a wave of damaging publicity.

The 10:35 a.m. speech is set for the White House’s East Room, which allows plenty of TV cameras, magnifies the apparent priority of the speech and likely will divert media attention from Obamacare’s escalating problems.

The event will be intensively covered by Spanish-language TV and media outlets, such as Univision and Telemundo, all of which favor an increased population of Spanish-speakers.

By giving the speech, Obama can distract the media from Obamacare, show progressives and Latino groups that he’s pushing for the immigration increase, and proclaim his sympathy for the Latino voters he needs in the 2014 midterm election. In mid 2012, Obama decreed a part-amnesty for younger illegals, greatly boosting his Latino support in the 2012 election.

He can also increase pressure on the GOP from Democrats, GOP donors, the media, plus local business and agricultural lobbies.

But “it doesn’t seem like it going to have any impact in Congress,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which urges a reduction in the current immigration level of 1 million people per year.

Amid widespread public opposition, a wave of GOP legislators, including several who previously backed an immigration rewrite, have recently declared that Obama can’t be trusted to negotiate any deal, or to enforce portions he does not like.

Top GOP leaders in the House, including House Speaker John Boehner, say they want a bill, but seem reluctant to risk splitting their party prior to budget negotiations in December and January.

If Obama’s speech is also a 2014 pitch, the GOP can respond by trying to win a share of Latino votes in the same way the GOP pursues votes from other Americans, said Krikorian.

There’s some evidence that the White House has given up trying to persuade Congress, Krikorian said. For example, Obama appointed a loyal lawyer to take the top position in the Department of Homeland Security, he said. That won’t do anything to build trust with suspicious GOP legislators, but it could help Obama create a series of mini-amnesties for groups of illegal immigrants, he said.

Obama’s high-profile speech also reverses his long-standing effort to keep a low profile in the debate. The strategy was intended to help immigration-friendly Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Paul Ryan, woo GOP legislators for the amnesty and doubled inflow. The plan helped the Democrats get a bill through the Senate in June.

Obama is expected to couch his East Room call for greater immigration in poll-tested and vague language that masks the unpopular aspects of the proposed rewrite. On Oct. 17, for example, Obama said the bill “would make the biggest commitment to border security in our history; would modernize our legal immigration system; make sure everyone plays by the same rules, makes sure that folks who came here illegally have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, meet their responsibilities.”

In practice, the Senate bill would double immigration via various programs, and provide a staged amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants. Overall, it would ensure the arrival of 33 million immigrants over 10 years, and double the resident pool of low-wage, university trained guest-workers to roughly 2 million.

That’s roughly one new working-age immigrant and one new guest worker for every two American who turn 18.

Only 10 to 15 percent of the immigrants are expected to have the workplace skills to allow them to pay more in taxes that they’ll receive in government services, welfare, medical care and retirement.

To aid passage in the House, advocates for the Senate bill included more than $30 billion to boost border defenses.

But the bill actually reduces current border security requirements, gives illegals more courtroom rights, and opens up many new legal immigration options for illegal immigrants, foreign workers, foreign students, people from war-torn countries, favored minorities, deportees and criminals.

Polls show that increased immigration is very unpopular, especially during a time of high employment, stalled wages and growing worry about outsourcing and automation.

However, a majority of Americans say they would accept an amnesty for the 11 million illegal immigrants if the government could be trusted to prevent subsequent illegal immigration. But only a minority trust the government to stop future illegal immigrants.

“Confidence in the likelihood of the federal government actually securing the border fell to a previous low of 28% in late June from a high of 45% in January… [and] continues to be perhaps the biggest problem immigration reformers face,” said a survey announced on Tuesday by Rasmussen Reports.

The bill is strongly supported by progressives, who believe it will give them political dominance after a few years. On Oct. 23, for example, The Hill newspaper quoted a “senior administration official” who said Obama would prefer an immigration rewrite to a 2014 majority in the House. “Given the choice, if we could only have one, he’d rather have immigration reform,” said the official.

The bill is also backed by business and agriculture groups, who want the increased inflow of customers and low-wage workers. Their lobbyists include Grover Norquist and former Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour.

The increased inflow is also very popular among journalists, who describe it as “immigration reform” or a “civil rights movement.”

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Neil Munro