Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Obama's Immigration Speech: "A Delicate Political Dance"

Posted By on Tue, May 10, 2011 at 2:31 PM

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reacts to Obama's immigration address in El Paso today:

President Obama’s speech Tuesday in Texas was cast as an attempt at restarting the conversation about comprehensive immigration reform but will almost certainly land with a dull thud in a Congress wary of taking on an issue so fraught with political pitfalls.

Obama, of course, knows that. And so, his speech today is rightly understood — and analyzed — as a political document rather than a policy one.

So, what does the speech tell us about how immigration fits into Obama’s broader political strategy in 2012?

Viewing it through that political lens, the speech is — on its face — trying to serve two very different constituencies.

On the one hand are Hispanics, the fastest growing demographic group in the country and one that has voted heavily for Democrats in recent elections. (Obama carried the Latino vote with 67 percent in 2008, Democrats won the group with 60 percent in 2010.)

Hispanics, broadly, support the idea of a comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million (or so) people in the country illegally.

Obama made a bow to this sentiment early in the address; “We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants — a nation that welcomes those willing to embrace America’s precepts,” he said.

The other constituency at which Obama’s speech was aimed is independent/swing voters who tend to view the idea of comprehensive immigration reform more skeptically.

Obama touted a series of border enforcement successes under his watch — the construction of a border fence, the seizure of 31 percent more drugs etc. — as evidence that he had listened to (and answered) critics who said that securing the border was a sine qua non for comprehensive immigration reform.

“The presence of so many illegal immigrants make a mockery of all those who are trying to immigrate legally,” he added.

It’s a delicate political dance. Obama has to make clear to Hispanics that he shares their vision of the American dream while simultaneously sending a message to swing voters that the rule of law matters and that he has put policies in place that are actually making the border more secure.

I thought it was a great speech, but will not persuade those on the right who are, in Obama's words, "moving the goalposts."

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