Obama's immigration speech this morning at American University in Northwest D.C. was prompted by recognition that, with the outcry over Arizona's SB 1070, the politics of immigration are shifting. This was Obama's first major policy speech on the issue -- and while he reframed the debate as one not solely about border security, but also about the benefits of immigration and problems with our naturalization laws, he set no timetable for immigration reform.
The speech was, in other words, more about politics than about policy. Consider how he highlighted his administration's increase in border personnel. This strategy has been advocated by some immigrant-rights supporters: Be tough on enforcement to cudgel Republicans into supporting comprehensive reform. As I have argued in the past, the danger is that it paints economically desperate people as criminals, making comprehensive immigration reform less likely.
Moreover, the long health-care and financial-reform battles mean the administration -- to the chagrin of Hispanic legislators and immigrant-rights supporters -- has only tackled the "enforcement" part of the reform-and-enforce equation. Today's speech did little to remedy that. It's widely recognized that immigration reform will not happen before the midterm elections, and whether it happens after the elections, as many are hoping it will, depends on how effectively the administration can shift the political conversation from the enforcement-only route it has taken.
Meanwhile, the Hispanic community remains frustrated with the pace of reform, as the situation for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country deteriorates. And talk, no matter what the frame, is becoming a joke. Bloggers at VivirLatino commemorated the speech with a drinking game: a shot for "reaching across the aisle," a Jell-O shot for "nation of immigrants." But sit it out for "secure the border." And drink straight from the bottle for "back of the line."
-- Gabriel Arana
UPDATE: Full text of Obama's speech available via latinopoliticsblog.com here.
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