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 country’s immigration laws and try to cast the Republican Party 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 unfavorable climate in Congress, where Republicans who control the House have shown no interest in legislation that offers a pathway to citizenship for the country’s 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, in which Obama is seeking another four years in office. 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 Republican 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 endeavoring 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 also is pitching his immigration argument to the larger public, and he’s refining it in a way that goes to Americans’ pocketbook concerns. White House officials say Obama will emphasize the economic value of reforming immigration laws, noting that immigrants account for a substantial share of business start-ups and patent applications, among other things — activities that create jobs for everyone.
Brendan Buck, spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner, said that House Republicans had no plans to take up immigration legislation and argued that if Obama were serious about immigration reform he would have reached out to Boehner on the issue, which Buck said he hasn’t.
The White House says Obama will push Tuesday for legislation and release a blueprint on his approach to reform, but without setting out any timeline. Indeed, getting immigration reform done any time soon is not realistic. Obama wasn’t even able to get legislation through Congress last year that would have provided a route to legal status for college students and others who were brought to the country as children. The so-called DREAM Act passed the House, then controlled by Democrats, but was blocked by Senate Republicans.
Associated Press writers Suzanne Gamboa and Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this story.