For the first four years of his Presidency, President Obama took no action on reforming our immigration system. In the lead-up to the November elections, he, again, promised to make immigration reform a priority. Since his reelection, however, he has offered no substantive proposals for reform. Now that Senate negotiators appear to be nearing a deal, however, Obama has made it known that he sees reform as part of his “legacy.” Obama is always ready to claim credit after others have done the work.
Appearing on Sunday’s “Meet the Press”, advisor David Axelrod staked out Obama’s claim on the issue. “He wants this accomplishment,” Axelrod said. “This is a legacy item for him. There is no doubt in my mind he wants to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”
Growing expectations that some progress can be made on immigration reform are attributable to two things. First, the GOP believes it needs to find some kind of reform it can support. Over the last three presidential elections, the party’s share of the Hispanic vote dropped by almost 40%, a trend party leaders blame on the party’s perceived lack of support for immigration reform.
More substantively, bi-partisan talks between a “Gang of 8” in the Senate appear to be yielding some broad agreement on several contentious issues. Over the weekend, Business and Labor negotiators announced they had reached a deal on a new guest-worker visa program. The issue was a major hurdle in the talks, although several others remain.
Most everyone supports the idea of reforming our immigration system. The problem has always been in the details. Even broad agreements can fall apart when they are put down into legislative language.
Enacting any kind of comprehensive reform will be a very complicated process. As with almost all other complex issues, Obama is leaving the hard negotiating and compromise to Congress. He’ll make some lofty speeches and rely on Congress to hammer out the actual work. That is the real Obama legacy.