US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The politics of immigration continues

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The first principle of getting re-elected is “nurture your base.” In 2008 Barack Obama got two-thirds of the Latino vote, and in the West it carry him to victory in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. In 2010 the Republicans were remarkably successful in capturing the House and almost the Senate. While immigration may not have been the issue that turned around the Democrats’ fortunes—it was the economy and health care—still there wasn’t much enthusiasm among Latino voters and many stayed home.

This last month the president called groups to the White House to discuss immigration reform and prepare for new effort at legislation in speeches El Paso and to Latino clergy at a prayer breakfast in Washington.

There is not much chance that an acceptable reform bill will get through this Congress. The Republicans control the House and have no interest. Obama acknowledged that in El Paso, as he chided previous Republican supporters of comprehensive reform such as John McCain (R, AZ) of backtracking.

Usually they demand “security first,” and when the administration accommodates them with more border guards and fencing, it’s not enough. He says they keep moving the goal posts and probably would not be happy short of digging a moat across the Southern border and filling it with alligators.

But the president pledged again to work for comprehensive reform that includes a path to citizenship. He urged another effort to pass the Dream Act, meant to assist undocumented students. To the Latino clergy he spoke of this a “moral imperative,” and looked to the church to make that point nationally. Republicans generally scoffed.

Immigrant advocates are pleased by the new presidential tone of urgency, but they doubt much will come from Congress. While the Dream Act has been re-introduced in both houses of Congress, it will be lucky to come to a vote, even in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Immigration activists had hoped that Obama would use executive power, at least to stop deportations that have grown since he took over the White House. He wants the Congress—meaning Republicans—to act. Their failure, he probably anticipates, will bring out the Latino vote for him. That’s how the GOP and the Washington punditry read it.

Major newspapers in complimenting the president on his El Paso speech urged him to back away from the Secure Communities program targeting criminals as now run by Homeland Security and especially the pressure on cities and states law enforcement to be part of a supposedly “voluntary” program. Even crossing the border without authorization is not a crime; it’s still a civil offense, though the penalty is exclusion from the country. All law enforcement can exercise discretion in going after law-breakers. But it should be the really bad guys first.