President Barack Obama promised late Thursday he would unilaterally reduce enforcement of immigration rules for some illegals by year’s end.
“I’ve said before that if Congress failed to live up to its responsibilities to solve this problem, I would act to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own … and it will be taking place between the November elections and the end of the year,” Obama told the all-Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Gala in Washington D.C.
The vague promise was coupled with a call for Latino groups to mobilize Latino voters for the November election, which polls now suggest will switch control of the Senate to the GOP. That switch would be a disaster for Obama, because it would allow the GOP to block his legislation, nominations and regulations.
But a rollback of immigration enforcement is unpopular for Americans, and Obama added several loopholes and complaints to his speech that would help him welch on his vague Thursday promise.
The rhetorical loopholes suggest that he doesn’t want to ignore the public’s lopsided and bipartisan opposition to any unilateral move on immigration for some of the 12 million illegal immigrants now living and working in the United States.
His caution also suggests that he might try to persuade GOP leaders in 2015 to pass an amnesty and guest-worker bill, following the defeat of his 2013 immigration bill. That amnesty goal is backed by business executives who hope to gain economically from a wave of new migrants and short-term guest workers. It is also backed by Democrats, who believe that additional legal immigrants will give them a huge demographic advantage in elections after 2020.
“The moment I act [by year’s end] … opponents of ‘reform’ will roll out the same old scare tactics,” Obama warned his Latino audience.
“They’ll use whatever excuse they have to try to block any attempt at immigration reform at all,” he said, recognizing that the GOP is under public pressure to block any amnesty.
“And we have to be realistic: For any action to last … we’re going to have to build more support of the American people so that it is sustainable and lasting,” Obama said, prior to demanding that the Latino groups help sway hostile public opinion.
That demand is an important loophole, because Obama knows that he and the Latino groups have failed to boost public support for his immigration policies. In fact, public support for Obama’s polices has declined steadily since early 2013.
Recent polls show that roughly 18 percent of voters strongly support Obama’s immigration policies, while roughly 50 percent strongly oppose his policies. Even his own base opposes his planned unilateral amnesty.
The opposition is so strong that Democratic politicians pushed him to delay his promised unilateral action from the end of summer to the end of the year, after the election.
The opposition is so strong that it has created a deep split between the GOP’s business and populist wings. That split may worsen and recreate the GOP as a much more populist party built around a coalition of middle-income and lower-income voters. That populist coalition — backed up by some elite supporters — could upend the progressives’ successful strategy of portraying the GOP as the party of old, white and wealthy men.
Obama implicitly admitted that he has failed to persuade Americans to back his immigration goals.
For example, he complained that “Republicans exploited the situation for political gain” when his deputies allowed at least 130,000 unskilled Central American migrants to cross the Texas border this year in search of green cards.
The influx of poor migrants prompted many Americans to express their opposition to more immigration. That shared opposition overwhelmed the normal pressure to welcome immigrants, and allowed more Americans to openly oppose Obama’s immigration policies. Subsequent polls show that strong opposition to Obama’s immigration policies rose, as high as 57 percent in one established poll.
Obama’s insistence that his immigration policies be popular prior to implementation creates a ready excuse for his end-of-year actions to be much narrower than the Hispanic lobbies are demanding.
Even as he hedged his promises, Obama also offered symbolic support to the lobbyists demand that many foreign Latinos be welcomed into the United States.
If accepted, their victory would boost the number of Hispanics in the United States, and boost the number and clout of Latino politicians and the revenues of Latino businesses.
For example, he brought two illegal immigrants from the White House to the Latino political event.
“I want to give a special thanks to two young men who rode over with me from the White House tonight,” he said. “Luis and Victor … are also DREAMers, living and working in the country they call home, and making it a better place for all of us. … They make me optimistic about what America is all about.”
“Dreamers” is a Democratic euphemism for young illegal immigrants.
Obama also echoed the Latino group’s effort to portray the deportations of illegal immigrants as the breakup of families. That task is aided by the media’s spotlighting of illegals who marry American citizens or residents.
“I know the pain of families torn apart because we live with a system that’s broken,” he said.
But Obama’s deputies deported fewer than 62,000 illegal foreigners for violating immigration law during 2013. That’s low level of enforcement means that fewer than one in 200 of the 12 million illegals living in the United States were repatriated in 2013 for violating immigration laws.
Obama’s speech included additional escape hatches from his apparent promise of action by year’s end.
“If anybody wants to know where my heart is or whether I want to have this fight, let me put those questions to rest right now. I am not going to give up this fight until it gets done,” he said.