How a campaign move on immigration is haunting Obama now
By Susan Crabtree | July 9, 2014 | 1:36 pm
The border crisis is forcing President Obama to pay the price for a re-election move he made two years ago.
At the time, Obama was hoping to energize Latino voters who were disappointed that he had raised deportations to record levels in an attempt to build credibility with Republican lawmakers for an eventual deal on immigration reform.
"This is a humanitarian crisis but it's largely the result of the impression that the president isn't interested in enforcing the law."
Sign Up for the Politics Today newsletter!
So in June 2012, Obama announced a half-measure he would take on his own. Through an executive order, Obama allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came before the age of 16 to remain in the U.S.
As a campaign tactic, it was a hit, helping Obama win Latino voters by 71 percent, according to an analysis of exit polls by the Pew Hispanic Center.
But the hidden cost was Obama’s credibility on the issue among many congressional Republicans. Although immigration reform passed the Senate with some GOP support, it has stalled in the House. Now a border crisis spurred by thousands of young migrants has brought the mistrust to a head.
Many Republicans on Capitol Hill blame the 2012 executive action for inspiring unaccompanied children from Central America to try to cross into America with the expectation they will be given a "permiso" and allowed to stay.
“This is a humanitarian crisis but it's largely the result of the impression that the president isn't interested in enforcing the law, which has made [the United States] a magnet for illegal immigration,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters.
The White House hoped to put Republican lawmakers on the spot by asking for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to deal with the border crisis -- nearly twice the amount Congress expected.
Obama and other administration officials have also tried to argue that the border crisis should provide more motivation for Republicans to embrace comprehensive immigration reform, not less.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Tuesday told reporters that the broad immigration measure the Senate passed last year included even more border security funds than the president's supplemental request.
“Unfortunately, it's Republicans, many of them from Texas, who are blocking the House from considering that common-sense, bipartisan proposal that would make an additional historic investment in the border,” he said.
Cornyn criticized Obama's emergency funding request, calling it a “blank check” that fails to address the underlying issues that have led to overcrowded detention centers and long waits for asylum hearings.
Some Republicans think Democrats are essentially daring them block the funding to make it an issue during the midterm elections.
Republicans were careful on Tuesday not to immediately object to the request's price tag, although they argued the proposal does not do enough to secure the border. Only a fraction of the total funds would be devoted to hiring more border patrol agents, an estimated 40 judges and asylum specialists to help speed up the deportation process.
House Speaker John Boehner faulted the plan for failing to send National Guard troops to the border but kept his cards close, saying only that House Republicans would carefully review the request.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also offered a careful pledge to review all the elements of the proposal.
Even with emergency funding gambit, it's unclear whether the Democrats will be able to make political hay out of the border crisis.
The sharp increase in the influx of children immigrants is eroding public approval of how Obama is handling the immigration issue as a whole. Americans approval rating of Obama's handling of immigration dropped to 31 percent, one of the lowest readings since 2010, when Gallup began polling on his handling of the issue.
The survey, released in late June, also found that two in three Americans, or 65 percent, disapprove of his handling of immigration.
The crisis at the border also has attracted new scrutiny of Obama's immigration record.
A leaked May 30 memo by a top Border Patrol official said currently only 3 percent of those apprehended from countries other than Mexico are being sent back.
A recent Los Angeles Times investigation found good reason for the perception that immigrant children would be allowed to remain in the country if they successfully made it across the border.
The number of immigrants under 18 who were deported or turned away at ports has fallen from 8,143 in 2008, the last year of the Bush administration, to 1,669 last year, the Times reported, citing Immigration and Customs Enforcement data released under a Freedom of Information Act request.