This afternoon President Obama delivered a speech on the need for immigration reform in El Paso, Texas. The following is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund:
First, the speech by President Obama today was strong, the efforts by his Administration to create momentum for reform are welcome, and his leadership aimed at teeing up a long overdue legislative breakthrough is essential.
Second, I want to take issue with the conventional wisdom regarding this speech. Many in the political class believe that it was a campaign-oriented speech aimed at showing Latino voters he cares in the run up to 2012. I disagree. I believe it is a sincere effort to build support, attract unusual allies and create political space for an eventual legislative breakthrough. Yes, it will be very difficult to achieve that breakthrough in this Congress – especially in light of the lurch to the right by Republicans in Congress on this issue and the resulting obstructionism on immigration reform. But even if Republicans continue to block reform this Congress, the President’s efforts are exactly what is needed to achieve an eventual breakthrough in 2013 or beyond. He is leaning into this debate and engaging the nation in a discussion that promises to move public opinion and mobilize key constituencies from across the political spectrum.
Third, I do not believe this initiative is primarily aimed at bringing disaffected Latino immigrant voters home, nor would it be successful in doing so if that were the goal. The White House is too smart and knows the Latino community too well to think that this drive to get Congress to take up immigration reform is all they need to do to mobilize Latino voters for 2012. I believe their position is this: the way to deliver for Latinos on immigration reform is to eventually deliver on immigration reform; that real results are the best politics – even if it takes a second term to get it done. In fact, it is my view that the most effective way for the White House to deal with the disappointment and anger regarding immigration among many in the Latino immigrant community is to take some bold administrative steps that focus enforcement on the “worst of the worst” and stop the deportation of low enforcement priorities such as DREAMers and others. For the President to close the “enthusiasm gap” with Latino immigrant voters, nothing less than bold administrative action is needed.
Finally, Republicans in Congress need to stop hiding behind “border security first” sound bites so that we can have a real dialogue and real debate in Congress that leads to a lasting immigration solution. As the President made clear today, there have been real resources, increased manpower, and a tightening at the border, but enforcement alone is not enough. We won’t achieve true border security unless and until we deal realistically with the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country today. That is the promise and the vision of comprehensive immigration reform.
America’s Voice Education Fund — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.