The Topsy Turvy Politics of Immigration Reform

Now the White House and Beltway groups say reform's back on the table this year. Well, not to pass it, just to talk about it.

By Daisy Hernandez Jun 29, 2010

It’s beginning to feel like a game of now you see it, now you don’t, now you might.

After Latino Democratic lawmakers confirmed that comprehensive immigration reform won’t happen this year, Obama convened a meeting yesterday with community leaders to strategize on how they might push for such legislation. Why push for something that can’t happen? To make Republicans look like the bad guys come November elections.

Eliseo Medina, a leader of the Service Employees International Union, told reporters: "We’re going to make absolutely crystal clear who’s at fault here."

If that were true, though, Latino leaders would be asking why on the same day that Obama sat down with them, his aides were meeting with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to talk about the 1,200 troops and $600 million that are to be sent to the border (Brewer, by the way, said the troop deployment is inadequate). They might also ask why the Beltway immigration groups have moved to the right on immigration.

According to people who were at the White House meeting yesterday, Obama acknowledged the political realities in Congress and talked with the group about smaller bits of immigration legislation, including a bill to permit undocumented young people to attend college. Today, he’s meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and his staff has said he’s going to deliver a speech soon on "the importance of passing comprehensive immigration reform."

Republicans are painfully aware, of course, that immigration might be this year’s election football. Last week, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl claimed that Obama said the White House was holding off on even more border enforcement to woo the Republicans to the table to discuss immigration reform. The White House denied the accusation and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano gave a refreshing reality check:

"It’s a big border. It is 1,960 miles across that southwest border. It’s some of the roughest toughest geographical terrain in the world across that border… You’re never going to totally seal the border."

Unfortunately for Republicans, they won’t need Obama, Latino groups or anyone else to highlight the party’s shortcomings on immigration or even solid facts. Gov. Brewer will take care of it by her lonesome self.

Earlier this month, she said most immigrants coming across the border are drug mules. When a reporter pressed her on this, she explained that immigrants might be entering the country looking for jobs, but then they "are accosted, and they become subjects of the drug cartels."

T.J. Bonner of the National Border Patrol Council clarified to CNN that her statements weren’t true. It turns out that drug smugglers are sending huge quantities of drugs across the border, more than one poor person could carry. Bonner added that Brewer’s comments don’t "comport with reality — that’s the nicest way to put it."

*Photo: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza*