President Obama made his first official speech today relating to immigration reform. His full remarks can be accessed here.
Pundits are already wondering why he would make immigration his next political battle when the Democrats look like they’re in for a major fight in this fall’s midterm elections. The President has his hands already full with a major environmental catastrophe in the gulf, an economy that is the worst in 70 years, and two wars with no end in sight. Most Americans seem rather apathetic when it comes to immigration reform; those that don’t are often the most vocally opposed to any kind of real reform.
One of the wedge issues Republicans use to mobilize their disgruntled base is immigration. Accordingly, solving the issue carries no political benefit for them. They stand to gain more politically by keeping it an unresolved thorn in the side of American politics. Furthermore, they stand to lose a lot if there is fair reform, since many in their most extreme base would see this as a form of amnesty or another example of government run amuck.
Let me suggest this…
The President is urging movement on immigration not because it will actually pan out but because it will remind a growing Latino base of Democratic voters (as well as other progressives) which party is on their side. Recent events in Arizona already do a lot of that. Now conservative pundits and politicians alike will do more of it in response to the President. All that rhetoric sounds racist to Latinos, as well as others who are composing the “next base” of the Democrats.
The President knows that even in places like Arizona, the political tide will turn if Democrats think and act in deliberate and calculated ways rather than in just reactionary ones. The electorate of the Southwest is becoming decidedly brown, not only due to immigration and fertility, but due to history, and a younger demographic of Latinos compared to an aging white one. As political science professor Stephen Nuño succinctly states in this recent report from the Grand Canyon State, “as the demographics change, this [anti-immigrant] strategy will become less viable.”
Obama is looking to November and beyond with his speech today, setting the groundwork for meaningful reform as much as setting the groundwork for a change in Washington. Let’s see if anything comes from it.