Obama, Romney Dance Around S.B. 1070

Obama, Romney Dance Around S.B. 1070

A common joke is that, in the future, Republicans will have to find as many minorities to be on stage with them as possible while Democrats will have to do the same with whites. As the country becomes more diverse throughout the decade, the GOP will not be a viable national party if it continues to get trounced in minority communities. Likewise, Democrats will cease to be a national party if the working class white vote goes overwhelmingly for Republicans. 

And in the interim, the parties keep up a tenuous dance where Republicans have to remain true to conservative principles without alienating minorities while Democrats have to support the liberal policies of their various interest groups, especially the multiculturalists, without completely turning off working class whites. 

And President Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s cautious responses to the Supreme Court’s S.B. 1070 ruling showed how immigration issues force both candidates to delicately conduct this dance. In the ruling, the Court stuck down three provisions of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 while allowing law enforcement officers in Arizona to check the legal status of those they reasonably suspect are in the country illegal after they have been apprehended for another crime.

In a statement, Obama said he was “pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law,” and it was “unmistakably clear” that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform,” because a “a patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem.”

“At the same time, I remain concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally,” Obama said, adding that, “no American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like” because that “undermines the civil rights of Americans.”

Obama then discussed how his directive not to deport certain illegal immigrants lifted “the shadow of deportation from young people who were brought to the United States as children through no fault of their own,” adding that he would work with “anyone in Congress who’s willing to make progress on comprehensive immigration reform.” 

By highlighting how Hispanics in Arizona may potentially have their civil rights violated because of S.B. 1070 and his selective non-deportation directive, Obama gave Latinos a nod that his administration is with them on immigration. But Obama went no further–no paths to citizenship or in-state tuition rates, for instance. And his promise to work with anyone in Congress rings hollow, because Democrats were in the majority in both chambers of Congress when Obama came into the White House and did not accomplish anything significant on immigration reform, especially when it came to border security.

Romney called Obama out on his lack of leadership.  

“President Obama has failed to provide any leadership on immigration,” Romney said. “This represents yet another broken promise by this President. I believe that each state has the duty-and the right-to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities.”

According to The Hill, Romney later said at an Arizona campaign stop that the decision would give states “less authority” and “less latitude to enforce immigration laws.” 

Just like Obama did not lurch even more to the left in his response to not turn off working class whites who are struggling in this down economy, Romney was more cautious in his statements than he was during the GOP primary for fear of turning off Hispanic voters, or worse, motivating and inciting them to vote against his candidacy.

The “patchwork of state laws” Obama cited in his statement largely exist because the federal government has been derelict in its duty to have a uniform immigration strategy. Too often, states like Arizona that have been burdened financially by illegal immigration have been forced to pass laws to deal with immigration problems the federal government has failed or refused to address. 

Before Obama got elected president and Romney won the GOP presidential nomination, each had more liberal and conservative stances, respectively, on immigration. Obama favored amnesty; Romney favored S.B. 1070 as a model for a national immigration policy. 

But both of their calculated and timid responses to the S.B. 1070 ruling will be par for the course for the general election, as both candidates seem like they are playing more “not to lose” than to win. But in the long run, Obama and Romney’s failure to take clear stances on S.B. 1070 (especially Obama blaming Congress for his failure and Romney being less aggressive than he was against fellow Republicans in the primary) show them to be calculating politicians instead of principled leaders on an issue in which the country is looking for more of the latter.