Four Roadblocks to Obama's Immigration Reform

Can President Obama effect change to the broken immigration system?

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After releasing his long-form birth certificate and taking care of that pesky terrorist leader Osama bin Laden once and for all, President Obama has now turned his public spotlight to the third issue most people had relegated to the never-going-to-happen category: comprehensive immigration reform. The president's speech in El Paso, Texas touted his administration's gains in border security and deportations while urging Congress to institute reforms that will provide a pathway to citizenship (though not without punishment) for the estimated 11 million immigrants already living in the United States illegally. The White House released a "Blueprint for Building a 21st Century Immigration System" that lays out the president's priorities in moving forward, but the question remains: With 2012 election season quickly approaching, can Obama actually effect change to the broken immigration system? Standing in his way are four major roadblocks:

[Read Obama's four ways forward on immigration reform.]

1. The conventional wisdom that this is just a campaign ploy.

Obama's approval numbers among Hispanics dropped from 73 percent in January 2009 to 54 percent in March 2011, according to Gallup, and some say Obama's new push for reform is simply an attempt to recapture his popularity among this huge and growing portion of voters: If it worked in '08, maybe it'll work in 2012.

If the president is serious, he will have to take what the public perceives as concrete steps toward reform to get past this assumption and actually get anything done. But if it is all bark and no bite, says immigrant advocacy organization National Council of La Raza's Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, the tactic may backfire. "If it turns out to be another round of politics, voters are going to see right through it."

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on immigration reform.]

2. Latino voters don't trust him because he already broke his promise on immigration.

In 2008, Candidate Obama promised to tackle immigration reform within his first year in office. That didn't happen. "Politician Obama let the Latino community down," says Luis Alvarado, managing director of right-leaning Latino Political Consulting. "The Latino community paid attention, and now those supporters he had in 2008 are now detractors and will be detractors in 2012."

But not all Latino voters have given up on the president. "They are disappointed that it hasn't passed," says Andre Pineda, a political consultant to Democrats. But "it's not that they blame him. They blame the Republicans," he says. "They just wish that he could have done more."

Pineda points out that Latinos are not necessarily single-issue voters, and immigration is not necessarily a top-of-mind issue for them. He held focus groups for immigrants and U.S.-born Latino voters in Colorado and Nevada and found that, out of 40 participants, only one mentioned immigration reform as a top issue. The other 39 focused primarily on jobs, housing, and education.

3. Bipartisan politics

Republicans have typically focused on securing the border as the only first step, saying they won't even consider broader reform until that is done. But in his speech, Obama suggested Republicans will never be satisfied, saying his administration had answered GOP demands, but he still suspects they will try to "move the goal posts on us one more time."

[See a slide show of the 11 cities with the most Hispanics.]

4. Jobs

Supporters of a pathway to citizenship refer to the economic benefit and jobs that immigrants bring to the nation—Obama pointed out that Google, Yahoo, Intel, and eBay were each founded by immigrants (though all were in the country legally). Detractors say just the opposite: Illegal immigrants take jobs from middle class Americans. With the nation's unemployment rate still hovering around 9 percent, any suspicion that a policy will cost jobs could derail public support.

  • Check out a roundup of political cartoons on immigration reform.
  • Read more about immigration reform.