Obama Addresses Immigration Reform Delays

October 10, 2014

After weeks and months of waiting, President Barack Obama has reaffirmed his promise to act on immigration reform, but only after important elections in the United States have been held. Addressing an audience gathered for the annual gala of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in early October, the president sought to reassure immigration advocates who had voiced frustrations caused by ongoing delays. Immigration activists picketed the event even as Mr Obama gave further reassurances that reforms would be pushed through – with or without support from Congress.

Whilst a peaceful and well-organised protest took place outside of the Washington Convention Centre, Obama said that he understood there were some frustrations after he had already given assurances on the issue earlier in the summer. “Fixing our broken immigration system,” he said, “is one more big thing that we have to take on and it is one more thing that we will do.”

Questions over Obama’s commitment to undertaking reforms in the immigration system gained momentum over the course of September, after the president had promised to push on with them by the end of the summer. However, Obama postponed action last month because of concerns by some within his own party that acting immediately would harm their chances of keeping Democratic control of the Senate. This had led some people, particularly those within the United States’ Hispanic communities, to wonder if the president was rolling-back on his earlier commitments entirely.

“President Obama’s time to mend his relationship with our community is quickly running out,” said Cristina Jimenez, of the group United We Dream, in a typical example of the sort of comment that has been made in recent weeks. Whether or not the president’s reassurance that he will continue with immigration reform after the all-important Election Day remains to be seen. Election Day usually falls on the first Tuesday of November in the US and can include Congressional ballots as well ones for positions of both Governor and Senator, so sceptics should not have too long to wait to see whether Obama is as good as his word on the issue. However, the presidential remarks came just one day after it was revealed that the United States’ immigration authorities have deported a record number - 438,000 people - from the country thus far in 2014. That statistic has led to some critics of Obama to dub him ‘deporter-in-chief’. Furthermore, it has left him open to accusations of having betrayed some Hispanic supporters, a demographic that gave him in excess of 70 per cent of its support when he was elected in 2012.

Critics of Obama’s delay with getting on with immigration reform say that the tactic has backfired on him, no matter what the outcome of the voting is on Election Day. This, they say, is because it has reduced enthusiasm amongst certain sections of the Democratic Party’s usual support base which it needs to motivate in the coming and future elections. Approval for the president’s handling of immigration shrunk in October to 42 per cent, according to the latest polling - down from a much more satisfactory 68 per cent in July 2013.

The president may be able turn around those approval ratings and improve his standings if he progresses with the oft-promised reforms after the elections. However, the issue may have caused him some more long-lasting damage, too. The Democratic Representative for Illinois, Luis Gutierrez , said that Obama made a promise over immigration reform in 2008, during his election campaign. “He said that he would get it done in 2009 and then again in 2010, 2011 and 2012,” Gutierrez said. “It is clear to anybody that looks at this says that we are not the priority we should be and we aren't the priority he promised we would be.” Gutierrez, who is a leading advocate for new immigration legislation, nevertheless welcomed the president’s latest reassurances calling them, “good news.”

Murad Awawdeha , a civic engagement officer with the New York Immigration Coalition, said that delays to reforms had had a devastating impact among the registration of immigrant voters. Referring to his experiences in and around New York City, he claimed that further delays were, “making it more difficult.” However, Jose Serrano, the House of Representatives member for the south Bronx in New York, said that the President has been right to avoid short-term actions which could undermine the chances of a fully-fledged immigration reform bill in 2015. “We have waited this long [for reform], so I think we can weather this storm and wait a little longer,” he added.

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