It’s the first week of the year and New Year’s resolutions are fresh and, at least for me, posted on my fridge. I doubt President Obama has his resolutions up on the refrigerator, but he nevertheless has made out his 2013 resolutions list.
This past Sunday on Meet the Press President Obama laid it out, “…fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority. I will introduce legislation in the first year to get that done.”
Now that’s a clear and concise New Year’s resolution. And I have every reason to believe President Obama. To begin, he has already fulfilled his first term campaign mandate of healthcare reform. More practically, he has an electoral mandate to make good on with the Latino electorate who voted for him north of 70 percent. And finally, a big and bold comprehensive immigration reform is the type of stuff that goes into building a president’s legacy.
Sure there’s the drama of the fiscal cliff, but that issue has become more of a permanent fixture than a temporary distraction from other issues. The next couple of months will be consumed by fiscal reform and perhaps gun control. But that doesn’t mean our executive and Congress can’t multi-task.
Unlike in his first administration, the president seems to be on board and ready for rolling up his sleeves and getting into immigration reform, but that won’t cut it. The problem for immigration reform in 2013 is rooted in Capital Hill. The president’s support is a necessary condition for any major policy overhaul, but it is not a sufficient condition.
Let’s just assume the president can arm-wrestle the Senate Democrats and a few Senate Republicans into supporting his immigration reform. Two out of three won’t cut it.
The Republican-controlled House is what stands in the way of immigration reform. More specifically, the GOP’s split mindset regarding Latinos and immigration is what will likely prevent the president from crossing off immigration reform from his 2013 to-do list.
There are moderate GOP voices, such as that of Jeb Bush, that are calling for Republicans to not just go along, but lead in an immigration overhaul effort. These are the folks who see the demographic handwriting on the wall and recognize that the Republican Party cannot survive by alienating the fastest-growing segment of the electorate. However, those voices are few and far between.
Immigration reform during this year or during any point in President Obama’s second term will not be easy. But it’s not impossible. Getting immigration reform to move in the House will entail a reframing of the issue to an economic one.
Over the last several years we have seen that the GOP is unmoved by strategic considerations of Latino electoral growth and/or humanitarian appeals. Immigration reform advocates — from the president down to the lay person — are wasting their breath if they think a Tea Partier will be swayed by the hard knock story of a DREAMER.
The current push for immigration reform would be wise to take a page out of the playbook from the last comprehensive immigration reform back in 1986. Republican congressional leaders were able to get their party and president on board by appealing to the arguments of economic growth and prosperity linked to immigration and diminished government meddling on the issue.
This is the only hope for immigration reform. It is not a one-size-fits all policy and in order to make good on his promise, the president’s good intentions alone won’t do.
Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is an NBC Latino and MSNBC contributor, Senior Analyst for Latino Decisions and Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, at Austin.