WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is making his first trip as president to the U.S.-Mexico border, using the setting to sharpen his call for a remake of the nation’s immigration laws and try to cast the GOP as the obstacle standing in its way.
The president’s speech in El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday, and his visit to a border crossing there, are the latest high-profile immigration events by Obama, who has also hosted meetings at the White House recently with Latino lawmakers, movie stars and others.
It all comes despite an unfavourable climate on Capitol Hill, where Republicans who control the House have shown no interest in legislation that offers a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.
That’s led to criticism that Obama’s efforts are little more than politics in pursuit of the ever-growing Hispanic electorate ahead of the 2012 election. White House officials dispute that. They acknowledge the difficulties in getting a bill but say it’s likelier to happen if the president creates public support for immigration legislation, leading to pressure on lawmakers.
“We already know from the first two years, the last Congress, that there was political opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, including from some places where there used to be political support,” said presidential spokesman Jay Carney. “We are endeavouring to change that dynamic by rallying public support, by raising public awareness about the need for comprehensive immigration reform.”
At the same time, the strategy allows Obama to highlight that Republicans are standing in the way of an immigration bill — shifting responsibility away from himself at a time when many Latino activists say he never made good on his campaign promise of prioritizing immigration legislation early on.
Obama’s spotty immigration record in the eyes of Latino voters makes it all the more politically imperative for him to shore up their support.