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The President Has No Magic Wand

August 12, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

President in Mexico

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza


As we noted in yesterday’s post, President Obama was in Mexico, meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  In a press conference with the three leaders, the President was asked about immigration reform. He replied that he now expects an immigration reform bill to be introduced by the end of the year, and for action in Congress to occur next year.


The press has been all over the President’s remarks about the immigration reform timeline.  (See, for example, today’s Washington Post lead story.)  It is being presented as a step back in the President’s commitment to support immigration reform.  The press loves drama, and the drama here is the high expectations of immigrants and their family members versus the reality of Washington politics.


Let’s not throw up our hands.


First, the President is aware of what the American people want regarding immigration reform (as gauged by these many public opinion surveys).


But ultimately, I think the American people want fairness. And we can create a system in which you have strong border security, we have an orderly process for people to come in, but we're also giving an opportunity for those who are already in the United States to be able to achieve a pathway to citizenship so that they don't have to live in the shadows, and their children and their grandchildren can have a full participation in the United States. So I'm confident we can get it done.


At the same time, he is realistic about the challenges ahead.


This is going to be difficult; it's going to require bipartisan cooperation. There are going to be demagogues out there who try to suggest that any form of pathway for legalization for those who are already in the United States is unacceptable. And those are fights that I'd have to have….


Speaking to a group of Spanish-language reporters later, he reiterated the point that the timing and the direction of the immigration reform debate, is not something he controls.


It's important that people understand that the president can not just snap his fingers to make something happen. I can not do everything alone. It will be very important for the community to organize and mobilize.


True.  The direction of the immigration debate went the way it did in the last couple of rounds because those opposed to immigration reform were very organized and focused on pressuring Congress to oppose reform. 


Now, we have a Democratic President and Democratic Congress.  But we still have to be the squeakier wheel in this round of the immigration debate.  It should be abundantly clear by now, from watching how the President’s priority issues have been handled in this Congress, that the President has only so much leverage—even with his own party. 


Immigration reform is not something that the President is going to get done.  It is something we are going to get done—through very persistent effort by thousands of actors in a unified pro-reform movement, all demanding of their representatives in Congress to fix the broken immigration system.  We need to be very focused and pressure Congress at every opportunity, until they are more afraid of us than they have been of the demagogues on the other side.       


The energy is going to have to be sustained.  There will be plenty of little setbacks, and it is much easier to just throw up our hands and say that our leaders just don’t listen.  That is a dangerous response—perhaps not for the hand thrower, but for the millions of people who are here working and living with the daily threat of being separated from their families.


Here’s how you can get started: 


The Campaign to Reform Immigration FOR America is asking people to visit their Senators and Representative during the month of August while they are in their home districts.  If you can organize a visit, or an event to draw attention to the need for immigration reform, you can register with the Campaign here.


Also, sign up for Campaign updates here, and get ready for a busy fall!

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