President Barack Obama is set to reject the key compromise at the heart of a bipartisan deal on immigration reform announced by eight Senators yesterday. The president, who will deliver an address later today in Las Vegas, NV outlining his own immigration ideas, is reported to oppose linking a “path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants, a Democrat demand, to stronger law enforcement and better border security, a Republican demand.
The president will apparently argue that the administration has met reasonable goals on enforcing current immigration legislation, and that additional security will merely create new obstacles to legalizing the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants thought to be living in the United States. The federal government accelerated deportations in the first years of the Obama presidency, and sent new personnel to patrol the southwestern border.
However, starting last year, the Obama administration declined to enforce existing law regarding the so-called “Dreamers”–immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children. The election-year move drew praise from Hispanic groups but preempted congressional legislation, and brought criticism from proponents of immigration reform, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who objected to the president’s clear circumvention of Congress.
The essence of the deal struck by Rubio with Senate colleagues in the “Gang of Eight” or “immigration eight” is that a path to citizenship would be contingent upon meeting law enforcement criteria. Republican critics of the Senate deal–including some who are otherwise supportive of immigration reform–argued that the deal would cause “instant legalization” of illegal immigrants, while the border security provisions would take time.
Rubio has proposed dealing with that problem by suggesting that the reform package be broken up into several pieces of legislation rather than one bill that would pass the citizenship and law enforcement provisions simultaneously. A previous reform law, the Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986, was ineffective precisely because it made legalization and border security simultaneous, rather than making the latter prior to the former.
The president is said to share Democrats’ objections to a series of legislation that would formally put law enforcement first, and prefers one comprehensive bill. But he will also go even further today, and reject the compromise outright.
By rejecting the citizenship-for-security compromise, the president may hope to focus media criticism on Republicans in Congress, who largely oppose a new amnesty for illegal immigrants. If the past is any indication, Obama will use that opposition to label Republicans as racist.
Once again, politics will trump progress–and Republicans, who were split on the Senate deal, may well thank Obama for sparing them a difficult choice.