Wooing Latinos, Obama Cites GOP Contrast on Immigration Reform

Wooing Latinos, Obama Cites GOP Contrast on Immigration Reform

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Photo: President Obama is shown at this week’s wide-ranging media briefing with Latino media representatives. NAM Washington correspondent Khalil Abdullah is seated at the far end of the table in the Roosevelt Room. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Barack Obama asserted his commitment to achieving comprehensive immigration reform should he be re-elected in 2012. “I will make this a prominent part of my campaign and I’ll talk about it extensively,” Obama vowed.

In a White House meeting on Wednesday with media reaching the Latino community, he stressed, “It’s going to be hard to have a more clear contrast between what the Republicans stand for on a whole range of issues and what I stand for and Democrats stand for.”

To Go Negative With “Facts”

Asked whether his re-election campaign would resort to negative ads to convince Latino voters of the sharp ideological distinctions between the two parties, the President said no, his campaign would be “based on facts.”

Barely restraining a wry chuckle, Obama added, “We may just run clips of the Republican debates, verbatim,” on Hispanic television media outlets. “We won’t even comment on them.”

The afternoon briefing was held hours before a debate among GOP candidates where Texas Gov. Rick Perry experienced a mid-sentence “brain freeze” and was unable to list all three of the federal agencies he said he would eliminate as President. The moment became the latest raw-meat entree for political pundits.

But Perry also has come under fire in his own party for holding views on immigration policy that more closely mirror the centrism of his immediate predecessor, President George Bush. Also, 2008 Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, of Arizona staked out a more moderate position than that of the GOP leadership today and its presidential aspirants -- yet another contrast not lost on Obama.

Some critics argue that Obama should have made immigration reform his priority instead of health care during his first term. But the electoral bean counters who monitor Congress contend that he simply didn’t have the votes to achieve that goal, and say there are even fewer votes now.

Obama conceded as much during the briefing, particularly since the Democrats lost the House in the 2010 mid-term election and retained a majority of the Senate only with a thinner margin.

“It may be that we cannot get comprehensive immigration reform through this Congress,” the President said, “but [what] we are exploring with immigrant rights groups, business community and others, are their components, like the DREAM Act, that are still viable and available for us to get done between now and the end of next year.”

Obama said the public’s overarching concern with the economy and jobs is understandable. In his opening remarks at the briefing, he delineated his recent administrative remedies designed to ease financial burdens on American families.

But, he conceded, “Ultimately, we’re not going to be able to have a profound effect on joblessness, on the housing market, on people’s incomes and wages in the absence of some significant action by Congress.”

Congress and the Latino Vote

On critical issues, Congress either plays the role of a vital partner for progress or an impediment to any president’s agenda. That’s all the more reason, Obama opined, that a strong Latino turnout for Democrats -- not only in the presidential election, but also in other races -- would provide him with “a clearer mandate” on immigration reform.

If that happens, he asserted, “The political dynamic may be different going into the second term.”

Obama held no illusions, however, about his declining approval ratings among Latinos. “I think there is no way to duplicate the atmosphere in 2008,” he stated frankly.

The President attributed today’s discontent primarily to the economic crisis that has decreased the financial solvency of so many Americans since he took office.

However, Obama decried attempts by Republican-controlled state legislatures to usurp the federal government’s constitutional purview on immigration, basing their arguments on economic justifications.

He had terse words for Alabama and HB 56. “I think it’s a bad law,” Obama said. “The people of Alabama would be wise to repeal it. In the absence of repeal, we will challenge it,” he pledged.

HB 56 is punitive on so many levels that undocumented immigrants and those who interact with them are being immersed in a climate of fear and uncertainty in communities statewide.

Obama said HB 56 is so broad and personally invasive; he speculated, for example, that a Catholic priest could be being punished “for giving a ride to an undocumented worker to a hospital.”

Critics of the Alabama law claim that it was designed to foster enough fear and uncertainty to result in self-deportation. To that end, the law has achieved a modicum of success as some individuals and families are fleeing the state. The President said achieving bragging rights for having the meanest immigration law is not synonymous with having an effective one.

Obama emphasized that HB 56 fails to “match our core values as a country.”

Deportations “Humane and Fair”

Addressing humanitarian criticisms on the record number of deportations his administration has posted, the President insisted the administration has enforced the current laws as required and will do that “in a humane and fair way.”

For example, Obama said his administration is working to develop “a clear set of prosecutorial guidelines to [ U.S. Immigration and CustomsEnforcement] to tell its officers, “Your priorities should be to go after serious criminals, not DREAM Act kids, not the parents of American-born kids who are here and who are minding their own business and taking care of their responsibilities. You should focus on criminals.”

He continued, “That’s caused some controversy both outside and inside the agency, but we think it’s the right thing to do,” particularly when federal resources are limited.

The President said he is acutely aware of how deportations can separate families, especially parents from children, and he spoke to the need to ensure that immigrant detention facilities are humanely operated.

In a briefing that ranged from questions on Latinos and small business policy to the debt crisis in Europe, and America’s increasing partnership with Latin America, Obama vowed that he will continue to make improvements in the lives of Americans in a way that will earn the Latino vote.

Even with his administration’s imperfections, Obama believes Latino voters will help him achieve a second term and, if they turn out in large enough numbers in key states, maybe a even a better shot at achieving immigration reform than in his first term.

“They know where my heart is,” said the President.