President punts immigration reform issue to Congress

President Obama is urging Congress to pass immigration reform, but has given no indication he will craft a plan of his own.

Immigration reform is widely regarded as having little chance of passing in the divided 112th Congress, especially if Obama does not take an active role in crafting a bill. 

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Critics say Obama’s recent emphasis on immigration is geared toward convincing skeptical Latino voters that he is committed to signing a bill into law. A large majority of Hispanic voters did not vote in last year’s midterm elections, and a repeat in 2012 would hamper Obama’s chances of winning a second term. 

Senior administration officials on Tuesday acknowledged that there needs to be a lot of communication between Obama and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill if an immigration measure is going to move. But the White House has not offered a plan, saying only that Obama and his Cabinet planned to elevate the immigration debate to include “a very serious and very vigorous” campaign to spur lawmakers to action. 

“This is in fact a problem that Congress is going to have to step up to the table and work with us to get done and get done on a bipartisan basis,” Melody Barnes, the director of the White House’s domestic policy council, told reporters. “He’s committed and will be leaning into this issue in a very serious and very vigorous way.”

On Tuesday afternoon the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) met with Obama and asked him to delay the deportation of certain illegal immigrants, such as students who have been in the U.S. for at least five years and do not have criminal histories.

“It was a productive meeting and there is no longer a debate over whether the President has broad discretionary powers when it comes to deportations,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) after the meeting.

“The question is how broad and how generous the president chooses to be. The meeting was not about granting legal status to the 12 million or so undocumented immigrants, but rather how to prioritize deporting drug dealers and gangsters, but not to deport DREAM Act students and the families of U.S. citizens."

The caucus meeting is the latest high-profile event Obama has held on immigration. After discussing the issue with immigration and civil-rights advocates two weeks ago, Obama met last week with Latino celebrities.

Alfonso Aguilar, the executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said the meeting with actresses Eva Longoria, Rosario Dawson and others was “outrageous and insulting.” He added that Obama’s increased visibility on the issue is just for show.

“These are all theatrics to give the impression to Latino voters that the president is doing something on immigration when we all know that he hasn’t done anything,” said Aguilar.

Former President George W. Bush’s effort to pass comprehensive immigration fell short in his second term. Obama helped push a scaled-back immigration bill through the House last year, but it died in the Senate.

Barnes defended Obama’s lack of an immigration plan this year.

“Often when the White House just puts something on the table it can also become a point of conflict and not an inflection point to move forward,” said Barnes. “Leadership can often mean working in a supportive way with the members of Congress who will actually have to put their names on legislation.”


—This story was updated at 10:13 p.m.