Thu, May 12, 2011 - Page 7 News List

ANALYSIS: New Obama immigration speech no game-changer

Reuters, PHOENIX, ARIZONA

US President Barack Obama’s latest call for immigration reform is unlikely to break a deadlock with Republicans on the issue and had little new to hearten the Hispanics whose votes he needs to win re-election, analysts said on Tuesday.

In a speech in El Paso, Texas, Obama reiterated his support for a major immigration shake-up, giving millions of illegal immigrants a shot at citizenship if they pay a fine and go to the back of the line.

He said his administration had met Republican concerns over security on the porous Mexico border by boosting the number of federal border police, as well as adding unmanned surveillance drones and additional fencing.

However, he offered no concrete policy initiatives or timelines for introducing legislation, underlining the fact that he is unlikely to push for a major overhaul before he faces re-election next year, analysts said.

“He’s checking a box for the constituent groups that care ... but there is no way to move this ball forward,” said Steven Camarota, research director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a pro-enforcement think-tank.

Obama flagged what he said were gains in security along the Mexican border. Additional Border Patrol agents, customs inspectors and law enforcement officials have contributed to rising drug seizures and a decline in the number of arrests of illegal immigrants, he said.

However, with control of the US House of Representatives and a stronger hand in the Senate since November’s midterm elections, analysts said there is no willingness among Republicans to make common ground with Democrats.

“Right now, you have a Republican Party that is in no mood to compromise on this issue,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University in Texas. “Absent from the entire speech was any discussion of Congress ... I haven’t seen any real plan about how you get this through the Republican House.”

Obama’s failure to get broader legislation on immigration through Congress has upset many Hispanic voters, who turned out by a more than two-to-one margin to vote for him in 2008.

Hispanic activists said they found little to encourage them in the president’s latest rallying call for reform.

“Actions definitely speak louder than words, and this was no different from speeches we have heard in the past,” said Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network that advocates for immigrants’ rights.

“The conversation at the dinner table is: ‘What has he done for Latinos?’ The answer is: ‘Nothing,’” he said.

Many Latinos are also disappointed with Obama’s inability to deliver the “Dream Act” — legislation that would give some people brought to the country illegally as children a shot at legal status. The bill failed to clear the US Senate last year.

Some are also riled at Obama over his administration’s revved-up deportation program that removed 394,000 illegal immigrants last year.

“The fact of the matter is that President Obama has deported more people than [former US] president [George W.] Bush’s administration ever did ... and what he promised today was more of the same,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

“How is that going to excite me as a Latino voter to hold on for a few more years?” he said.

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