Back in June of this year, when Mr Obama announced from the White House Rose Garden that he would lead on immigration policy in the United States, there is little doubt that he surprised many politicians and by setting out a firm and clear deadline for executive action. The President said that the timescale he was working to, which could have a huge impact on the lives of millions of people who are in the country illegally, was the end of the summer. Now White House officials seem to be drawing back from that deadline and watering down what the government expects to achieve in the short term.
This has led many White House observers to note that, having trumpeted its deadline for a couple of months, the Obama administration has become non-committal on the timing of changes. The announcement has created the impression of a certain amount of disarray on a subject – one that the President has referred to as an important domestic policy priority. One of the reasons that there is now confusion on the matter is that no clear new deadline has been set. Instead, the deadline announced by Mr Obama earlier in the summer simply seems to have been diluted. According to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, “there is a chance that [the deadline] could be before the end of the summer,” but, he continued, “there is also the chance that it could be after the summer.”
There are around 11 million immigrants who live in the United States without the legal right to do so. The issue of immigrants without a legal status is undoubtedly a controversial topic for voters and one that has been the subject of many polls over recent years. Members of the Republican Party have spoken widely on the subject. It is easy to see why Republicans would seize on the issue – because they can use it to attack Democratic politicians. For example, the issue of illegal immigration helped Republican Scott Brown reduce the lead of the incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire.
Many Republicans politicians are gearing up for Obama’s next announcement which they see as something that they will be able to dress up as an “immigration amnesty”. It is no secret that many in the Republican Party want to use the issue of people who are in the country without legal status to attack Obama, and the Democrats more generally, in the eyes of voters. With such a political game at stake it may, therefore, be no surprise that the White House is now seeking to readdress its self-imposed deadline for changes.
When the President last spoke on the subject he did not draw short of making a political point himself. He referred to the impasse on driving immigration policy forwards in Congress. He said that if Congressmen cannot do their job properly, then at least those in the White House could do theirs. He then went on to declare that he would be making recommendations before the end of summer and –crucially – that he intended to adopt those recommendations without any subsequent delay. Now that the President appears to be rolling back on his own deadline, a further political explanation can be made. Congressional elections are due in the United States in early November and some political observers have pointed out that Obama may be seeking to delay either his recommendations or – at least – their implementation until after they have taken place. This potential postponement, it isthought, is a measure that is designed to help to protect vulnerable Democratic Congressmen and women from political attacks from Republican politicians.
However, any delay on immigration in the United States may also cause political problems for the Democrats from another quarter. For example, Democrats with sizable a Hispanic electorate in their area, such as Senator Mark Udall in Colorado, may see support drifting away as a result of inaction. Therefore, the White House announcement was careful not to say there would be a delay, merely that there could be one. According to the America’s Voice advocacy group, if Obama fails to meet his summer deadline on the issue, then it will become harder to mobilise many Hispanic voters, amongst other groups.