With the disappointing high profile defeat of his gun legislation, President Obama now is left with immigration reform as the last possible signature legislation of his second term. No doubt the president is concerned with his legacy, yet immigration reform presents many perils. An AP article on May 1 succinctly summarizes the dilemma facing Obama, "If Obama is too closely aligned with the legislation, it could scareaway Republicans wary of appearing to hand the president a win. But if he stays on the sidelines and the overhaul runs into trouble on Capitol Hill, Obama likely will be criticized for not using his presidential powers to fight for votes, as he was following the recent failure of gun control measures he championed."
Up to this point, President Obama has taken a backseat to the immigration reform process that has been spearheaded by the bipartisan Gang of 8 senators. He did so after his leaked bill was widely criticized. Although AP reported that in coming weeks Obama will, "ramp up his immigration-related travel this spring and summer, including a trip this week to Mexico and Costa Rica. The White House also is planning to use Spanish-language media to bolster public support for a comprehensive bill." The same article adds that while the president will be more public about the issue, he will continue to support the Senate Gang of 8 legislation's principles.
It appears though that Obama's biggest conundrum in the coming weeks will not be whether to be more or less vocal on the issue in public, rather his biggest challenge is going to be trying to mollify all the unhappy groups within his own party that are unhappy with the Senate bill. In a twist of irony, much of the conservative elite, including Speaker John Bohoener (R-OH) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) seem to like the Senate bill, while other prominent conservatives recognize the need for immigration reform--but parts of the Democratic coalition have major concerns about it.
Obama's Scylla and Charybdis are not conservatives, but two vocal groups in the Democratic party. First, is the LGBT community are pushing for immigration petitioning rights for same-sex couples. Although that was included in the White House bill, Republicans including Rubio have said that addition would doom the bill. Most Republicans feel the immigration bill will be hard enough to sell to conservative voters without also including a hot button issue like gay rights in it. The Human Rights campaign has said it will not stop pushing for the inclusion of same-sex immigration benefits in the bill. A Politico article called the omission of same-sex rights the "most serious threat to bipartisan immigration reform."
Second, advocates for the undocumented are also unhappy with various aspects of the bill including: the long waiting period to citizenship, the high fees to be paid, and the stringent documentation process required to show proof of residence. The President has bluntly told the advocates that they won't get everything they want. Angela Salas, Executive Director of the Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights for Los Angeles, stated, "What we’re trying to bring forward to the senators is in their compromises, in the details. We want to make this bill practical.”
President Obama is taking a gamble that these two constituencies will when it gets down to it, take what they can get with the existing bill and not agitate further to the point of derailing the bill. I am uneasy about the comprehensive approach because I fear that in the push to get legalization, Democrats will swallow all sorts of bitter pills including expanded enforcement programs (that may not necesarily be effective like E-verify), and expanded guest worker programs. It is not at all clear to me that the LGBT and others within the Democratic party are willing to go along with this Faustian deal.