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Immigration Advice for Obama: Take on the GOP, Have the Fight With Lamar Smith

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Obama and Lamar Smith

Earlier this week, the President convened another in a series of meetings on immigration reform. This latest session was with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.  That’s the third immigration-related meeting in a two-week span. Next week, he’ll be addressing the issue during a speech in El Paso, Texas.
Clearly, the President has gotten the message that the Latino community is frustrated and angry about the lack of action on comprehensive immigration reform.  Recent tracking polls from Latino Decisions shows that while Obama’s approval rating among Latino voters is 73%, his reelect number is 41%, and immigration is a hugely important issue for those who are still undecided.  As Latino Decisions points out, “This 32 point gap could spell trouble down the road.”

The President needs to take a detour.  Heading into 2012, he can’t allow his legacy on immigration to be defined by a record number of deportations and no relief for any of the undocumented immigrants he pledged to legalize.  It’s great that the President is using his megaphone to put more pressure on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  We need it.  But we also need the Administration to take bold action to reform its enforcement policies and bring them more in line with their stated priorities. 

In addition to the meeting that the President had with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on immigration, two senior administration officials, Melody Barnes and Cecilia Muñoz, conducted an on-the-record question and answer session with reporters.  That provided an illuminating insight into the administration’s thinking on immigration: they’re worried about avoiding conflict.

Via Politico:

[Barnes] suggested the tactics would not include the White House introducing its own bill, as congressional Republicans wanted.

“Often when the White House just puts something on the table, it can become a point of conflict and not an inflection point to move forward,” Barnes said.

The same concern was voiced earlier this year, when the New York Times reported:

But senior administration officials said they did not want to make wider use of those powers for fear of deepening the conflict with Mr. Smith and other Republicans, who might try to limit the authority granted by immigration law and further stiffen their opposition to measures like the Dream Act. The officials spoke anonymously, saying they could discuss policy more freely that way.

And the effort to avoid conflict was painfully clear when DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in early March.  After being grilled by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) about DHS deportation policies, Napolitano tried to appease the senator instead of challenging him for his role in blocking needed immigration reforms.  Napolitano touted her Department’s record number of deportations and noted that the Obama Administration granted deferred action in less than 900 cases last year – fewer than the Bush Administration.