Pro-immigration groups are pushing the White House to further loosen enforcement of immigration rules for more than 300,000 illegal immigrants, but reelection-minded administration officials are instead trying to redirect the advocates’ energy and frustration towards the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.
On May 3, in a White House meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Congress, President Obama blamed Congress for the immigration-advocates’ frustrations. “The president was asked by the CHC members to consider a broad range of administrative options [but the president said] that the only way to fix what’s broken about our immigration system is through legislative action in Congress,” said a White House statement.
On Thursday April 28, Obama met with a group of Hispanic celebrities, and persuaded several to broadcast the same message. “We like to blame Obama for the inaction, but he can’t just disobey the law that’s written,” actress Eva Longoria told reporters as she left the White House.
That’s “not true,” said Benjamin Johnson, the executive director of the American Immigration Council, which supports large-scale conditional amnesties for illegal immigrants. “As a matter of law, there is really no question that the executive branch, the third branch of government, has enormous power how to interpret and implement law,” he said
His group and others are pushing administration officials to recognize legal loopholes that would help many illegal immigrants stay in the country. “My hope is to get off the question of ‘Can they?’ to ‘Will they?” he said.
Not likely, says Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which is pushing to reduce legal and illegal immigration. Obama has already declared he won’t use regulatory changes to deliver an amnesty, because “somebody in the White House is connected to reality [and recognizes] it would be politically catastrophic for him,” he said.
Although Obama has quietly relaxed many rules, “what the [pro-amnesty] groups want is for him to issue a sweeping executive order or to grant a protective status to all Mexicans that would effect millions of people,” Krikorian said. “I don’t see how he can get away with that.”
Nationwide, the labor force has shrunk, yet 9 percent are unemployed and another 10 percent are underemployed in an economy while an estimated 7 million illegal immigrants hold jobs. Popular opposition to illegal immigration was high before the recession, and numerous state and local governments are taking actions to pressure illegal immigrants out of their jurisdictions. Rallied by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Center for Immigration Studies, NumbersUSA and many other groups, popular opposition has pressured Congress to reject several amnesty bills that were strongly pushed by well-funded industry, Hispanic and liberal advocates during the last few years.
Illegal immigration is sharply opposed by critical voting blocs, including African-Americans and swing-voting, white, blue-collar workers.
But Obama’s 2012 reelection requires also needs a good turnout and lop-sided support among Democratic-leaning Hispanic voters. Their turnout is usually lower that that of African-American and white voters, and Obama’s polls in the community have slid down to the mid-50s. In 2008, Obama won the support of 67 percent of Latinos, bringing him a crushing victory in California and contributing to his narrow victories in South Carolina and Virginia.