Ad­vo­cates pres­sure Obama to take ac­tion on im­mi­gra­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Pres­i­dent Obama faces an in­creas­ingly tough tightrope on im­mi­gra­tion, with ad­vo­cacy groups de­mand­ing he take the lead on the is­sue but Repub­li­cans and Democrats on Capi­tol Hill say­ing the more in­volved he gets, the less likely a deal be­comes.

Im­mi­grant rights ac­tivists, who for years tar­geted Congress and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans in par­tic­u­lar, have turned some of their fire on Mr. Obama, ar­gu­ing that he needs to show more lead­er­ship in work­ing with Capi­tol Hill to strike a deal and in do­ing what he can uni­lat­er­ally to stop de­por­ta­tions.

Seek­ing to in­crease pub­lic pres­sure, some ac­tivists have en­gaged in civil dis­obe­di­ence by chain­ing them­selves to the White House fence or block­ing U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE) of­fices, pre­vent­ing au­thor­i­ties from con­duct­ing de­por­ta­tions on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.

“We are hold­ing the Democrats and the pres­i­dent re­spon­si­ble as well,” said Marisa Franco, who leads the Not One More De­por­ta­tion cam­paign for the Na­tional Day La­borer Or­ga­niz­ing Net­work. “We don’t think the only way to go is to just pres­sure the Repub­li­cans, be­cause the fact of the mat­ter is Democrats have also ben­e­fited from hav­ing this is­sue be a po­lit­i­cal is­sue for a long time.”

Mr. Obama has en­tered his sec­ond term vow­ing to make im­mi­gra­tion a ma­jor push, but bud­get and eco­nomic is­sues, as well as in­ter­na­tional hot spots such as Syria, have con­sumed much of his time.

On Thurs­day, the pres­i­dent gin­gerly dipped his toe back into the de­bate, de­liv­er­ing a 12-minute speech at the White House chal­leng­ing con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans to restart the de­bate.

“Now it’s up to Repub­li­cans in the House to de­cide whether re­form be­comes a re­al­ity or not,” Mr. Obama said.

He pointed to a bill that House Demo­cratic lead­ers are back­ing, which is close to the Se­nate’s im­mi­gra­tion bill — though Democrats cut out all of the stiff bor­der se­cu­rity pro­vi­sions that en­abled the Se­nate bill to pass with bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

But that leg­is­la­tion un­der­scores the prob­lems.

Not a sin­gle Repub­li­can has signed on as a co-spon­sor, and even some im­mi­grant rights groups have panned the Democrats’ bill, say­ing it sug­gests the party is try­ing to play pol­i­tics rather than pass leg­is­la­tion that will solve the prob­lem.

In a let­ter to Mr. Obama last week, one ad­vo­cacy group urged the pres­i­dent not to fol­low House Democrats’ lead and in­stead make mean­ing­ful out­reach to Repub­li­cans.

“Make a de­ter­mined and hon­est ef­fort to reach across the aisle to mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans and make some­thing hap­pen,” the Dream Ac­tion Coali­tion said. “Make phone calls to the speaker and Repub­li­can lead­er­ship on im­mi­gra­tion. Or­ga­nize meet­ings in the White House with the Repub­li­can rank-and-file.”

Two Repub­li­cans work­ing on their own plans have said they will write bills to le­gal­ize il­le­gal im­mi­grants — though they ap­par­ently would stop short of cre­at­ing a spe­cific path­way to ci­ti­zen­ship, which Democrats in­sist is a re­quire­ment for get­ting their sup­port.

House Repub­li­can lead­ers are in­tent on di­vid­ing the im­mi­gra­tion is­sue into a se­ries of bills to deal with it in pieces. Com­mit­tees have cleared spe­cific bills deal­ing with bor­der se­cu­rity, in­te­rior en­force­ment and le­gal guest work­ers, and a bill to le­gal­ize young il­le­gal im­mi­grants has been in the works for months. Democrats also have re­buffed that ap­proach.

On Thurs­day, sev­eral Repub­li­cans com­pared the broad, Se­nat­estyle “com­pre­hen­sive” im­mi­gra­tion bill to the pres­i­dent’s health care law, which is suf­fer­ing ma­jor birthing pains as the ad­min­is­tra­tion tries to work out kinks in the health care ex­changes.

“We don’t need another mas­sive, Oba­macare-like bill that is full of sur­prises and dys­func­tion af­ter it be­comes law,” said Rep. Bob Good­latte, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can and chair­man of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, who has writ­ten some of the piece­meal bills.

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