President Barack Obama has time and again showed support for the sparsely populated communities of undocumented people living in this country. Yet while immigration policy reform was one of the promises he made during the presidential campaign trail, little has come of it thus far in his term as chief executive of the United States. For some time now, there have been those who speculate that his power could extend to mending the immigration problems we face, albeit on a much smaller scale than if the change were made by the legislature. However, in a speech he made in El Paso, Texas on Tuesday, he made it clear that he will not overreach his power to perform a role that he is not Constitutionally endowed with, but, in reiterating the importance of the job getting done, he will instead seek to build pressure on Congress for a bi-partisan immigration reform law.
It is no secret that immigration reform floundered at the federal level during the Bush years, and that Obama’s pledge to do something about it during his first year in office only led to a piecemeal effort that was not even enough to pass the DREAM Act. Nevertheless, the president has a clear vision for reform that includes securing the nation’s territorial borders, holding businesses accountable for breaking the law by undermining American workers and exploiting undocumented ones, and also seeking to improve our legal immigration system. However, conversations on the latter stalled once it became evident that certain lawmakers were unwilling to negotiate any terms unless the borders were completely secured. In his speech, the President asserted that he has done just that by helping to more than double the size of the Border Patrol since 2004, to 20,000 agents, as well as through his addition of unmanned drones patrolling border regions, which have resulted in a border “fence [that] is now basically complete.” The administration has also surpassed his expected obligations by working with Mexican leaders to crack down on crime and smuggling in the border territory and help ease the tensions that came as a byproduct of all the illegal activities that have come to show significant progress. Therefore, since the Obama administration kept their end of the deal, the attention must now turn on the U.S. Congress for them to make good on their promise to enact legislation for immigration reform.
Now, “the most significant step we can take to secure the borders is to fix the system as a whole,” he said. The question, Obama said, is whether Congress (Republicans in Particular) can muster the political will to do so. His announcement, which follows the recent meetings held to discuss this topic with public and business leaders, indicates that the president is attempting to jumpstart the immigration debate in an effort to end the impasse that has plagued it thus far. In recognition of the complexities inherent of an issue fraught with contentious and divided opinions, as is befitting of a former community organizer, the President has asked for the public’s help in motivating “Congress to catch up to a train that’s leaving the station.” According to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, the president’s call for the public’s input will put pressure on those in Congress standing in the way of progress: “We already know from the first two years, the last Congress, that there was political opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, including from some places where there used to be political support,” said Mr. Carney. “We are endeavoring to change that dynamic by rallying public support, by raising public awareness about the need for comprehensive immigration reform.”
The President’s call for the public’s support in a style akin to a grassroots movement was as follows: “We’re going to keep up the fight for reform. And that’s where you come in. I will do my part to lead a constructive and civil debate on these issues…But this change has to be driven by you- to help us push for comprehensive reform, and to identify what steps we can take right now- like the Dream Act and visa reform- areas where we can find common ground among Democrats and Republicans to begin fixing what’s broken.” Adding that, “we need Washington to know that there is a movement for reform gathering strength from coast to coast. That’s how we’ll get this done. That’s how we can ensure that in the years ahead we are welcoming the talents of all who can contribute to this country; and that we are living up to that basic American idea: you can make it if you try.”
Although some critics claim that Obama’s speech is merely a political tool to help him build a coalition for the 2012 elections but that it will almost certainly gain little traction in Congress, it is of our opinion that taking the cynic’s route is simply counter-productive. If his speech imparted us with anything it is that the issue presented by our nation’s current immigration system is a complicated patchwork of laws that, having been neglected for so long, have resulted in a series of miniature implosions that collectively have morphed to take the form of a burgeoning socio-economic problem reminiscent of a labyrinth where myth, xenophobia, and bigotry have clouded the visibility and made it all that harder for a bi-partisan Congress to find a plausible and comprehensive way out. That is why it is up to each one of us- the constituent body- to communicate our wishes to our lawmakers because although they are avid players, rule number one in the game of politics dictates that they can filibuster and haggle all they want but they cannot go against the will of the majority, or else.