News Analysis: Obama and Immigration Reform, Under the Radar … For Now

By John Rudolph, FI2W Executive Producer

For a new president who is still in the process of defining his administration’s policies, the media scrutiny can be intense. Almost immediately after taking office President Obama experienced what it’s like to be under the microscope as he and his White House team began to grapple with the economic crisis. Reporters guided by the advice to “follow the money” in the stimulus package began pulling apart the president’s proposals even before a penny was spent.

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But, it seems, all issues do not rise to the same level of media attention – even highly controversial ones like immigration reform. Last week Mr. Obama went on the popular Spanish-language radio program Piolín por la Mañana and stated that his administration will start to draw up comprehensive immigration reform legislation, “over the next several months.” The president also told the show’s host, Eddie “Piolín” Sotelo that before proposing new legislation:

“We’re going to start by really trying to work on how to improve the current system so that people who want to be naturalized, who want to become citizens, like you did, that they are able to do it; that it’s cheaper, that it’s faster, that they have an easier time in terms of sponsoring family members.”

Mr. Obama’s comments – striking in their specificity — were reported by Spanish-language media, but virtually ignored by mainstream English-language newspapers, TV and web sites. It’s a continuation of a pattern that was established during last fall’s presidential campaign. When he was running for president, virtually the only place where Mr. Obama talked about the issue of immigration was in Spanish-language media. His Republican rival, Senator John McCain, followed an almost identical strategy. As a result, consumers of Spanish-language media heard a debate over the two candidate’s positions on immigration that was missing from mainstream media.

According to Los Angeles Times’ James Rainey, by making himself available to the often-marginalized ethnic press, the president “has signaled that he may shake up the traditional protocols of Washington journalism.” But there’s more to it than that. Even as Mr. Obama says “we are one America” he seems to understand that there are groups – including journalists – in this country that don’t talk to one another, never compare notes, and hardly acknowledge each other’s existence. The powerful anti-immigrant sentiment that can be found across the country is, at least partly, a product of immigrant and native-born communities that exist side-by-side, but seem to inhabit parallel universes. And it is the anti-immigrant forces that the president will have to win over if meaningful changes to the nation’s immigration laws are to be enacted.

You can’t fault the president for his choice last week of a friendly environment to talk about immigration reform. But at some point Mr. Obama will have to take his proposals to the whole country, not just the Spanish-language radio audience. That’s when the gulf separating the different sides in this debate will come more sharply into focus. It will be the president’s challenge to bring all the factions together to find a way to fix an immigration system that just about everyone agrees is broken.

0 comments

  1. Buzzm1

    There are 11.6 million unemployed Americans, and that number will, undoubtedly, increase to well over 12 million, on March 6th, when the February numbers are released.

    There is also an existing law, against an illegal, being employed by anyone, anywhere, within our United States.

    Yet, it is widely known that there are over 8.7 million illegals working at jobs within our United States; jobs that they illegally obtained by using forged, and/or stolen documents.

    These are jobs in construction, manufacturing, food processing etc.,; jobs that Americans will do.

    Why did the Democrats strip E-Verify from the Stimulus Bill, not only protecting these illegals in the jobs they are working at, but making them elgible, through the absence of E-Verify, to illegally obtain jobs provided by OUR OWN Stimulus money.

    ALL Americans need to ask their Democratic Representatives, and Senators, why they are allowing illegals to take jobs that rightfully, and legally, belong to Americans, let alone, allowing illegals to remain in our United States.

    Remember there is a law against illegals working in our country,and there is also a law against illegals even being in our country.

    Democrats, why are our laws against illegals not being enforced??

    WHY???

    LISTEN UP DEMOCRATS!!!

    FOR THE GOOD OF AMERICAN WORKERS, AND ALL AMERICANS, WE WANT OUR LAWS ENFORCED, AND WE WANT E-VERIFY MANDATED FOR ALL EMPLOYERS, AND ALL EMPLOYEES.

    WE, YOUR CONSTITUENTS, AND VOTERS, WILL NOT BE DENIED!!!

  2. Linda Dodd-Major

    On what basis does this article appear to assume that the “US immigration system” is “broken” because journalists and others disagree that “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” (which has become the code term for legalization/amnesty) is the only “right” or “fair” policy? It makes a mockery of the rule of law by which the US Congress (and states) have legislated control of US borders, residence, employment, and citizenship (including what behavior is criminal) and essentially condemns US policy to the vagaries of random or intentional unrepresentative migration flows. It also completely undermines an important purpose of laws to deter as well as punish non-compliance. Unless the USA suddenly opts to discontinue all immigration controls other than for national security purposes, the CIR that you comment cannot achieve consensus badly disserves three very meritorious groups of aliens. First, while rewarding violators, it would ignore current and former nonimmigrants who fully respected US law BASED ON THE BELIEF, PURSUANT TO ADVICE FROM LAWYERS SUCH AS MYSELF, that respect for the law would best preserve the immigration options for them that CIR WILL NOT PROVIDE. The third disserved group of deserving aliens consists of those who will not, especially if violators from their home countries are rewarded in large numbers through CIR, be able to overcome the presumption residing in the nonimmigrant visa process that they will not return home if they are given the opportunity to travel to and enter the USA as visitors, exchange participants, athletes, performers, lecturers, students, temporary workers, etc (these consequences would be felt, AT LEAST, in all developing countries). In other words, absent a political alternative that is likely to be even less popular than CIR (open borders), those persons who feel disserved by CIR are even more likely to be foreign-born than they are to be “nativists.” Count me as one who favors gross expansion of nonimmigrant and immigrant opportunities and zero tolerance for unauthorized behavior (except for bona fide asylum cases). We will have NO rule of law (especially immigration law) otherwise. Can’t those of you who comment on immigration policy not paint this picture more comprehensively? Is it fair to allow the US public to be turned against all immigration in order to serve the interests of unauthorized residents and workers (essentially closing membership to the club after those who broke the rules are initiated)? Please also address the issue of WHO PAYS. To the extent that unauthorized workers are primarily low wage workers, who benefits from those low wages? Who really supports the profit of those employers who gain a competitive advantage from their suppressed (perhaps exploitive) wages. Do those employers pay benefits to those workers (and would they do so under CIR) or would the costs of those benefits (which cannot be borne by the workers themselves –read Elizabeth Ehrenreich) be passed on to the public? Is this much different than the US public bailing Wall St out from its irresponsibly risky behavior, continuing to watch its executives reap huge salaries and bonuses while the economy collapses around them from their actions (look at the effects of uninsured workers incentivized by birthright citizenship in California, for example)? Is it good policy for the public to bail out or support profits of business by paying costs (such as health care, for one) necessary to achieve those profits? If US Chamber of Commerce members had to carry their share of the burden rather than letting taxpayers do so, would it be lobbying so hard for CIR? Would the public not rather pay a bit more for lettuce…?

  3. mrquantum

    I agree that illegal immigrants should not be given the same rights as U.S Citizens or legal residents. Why is the U.S rewarding those who have broken the law? By the same principle, should the U.S also reward criminals? I believe all illegal immigrants should be deported to their country and not be given any special preference. It is ironic that these people HATE the U.S and yet they risk their lives to obtain jobs in the U.S.

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  5. Mr. Garcia

    your forefathers immigrated from across the the world and Things changed in that time. it change to adopt to the new workgroup that was present at that time. why shouldnt change take part for the present migrant workforce now. why should it be any diffrent.

  6. One of the few positives of the economic “stimulus” plan was the provision limiting the ability TARP recipients to hire foreign workers over American workers. Drafted by Senators Bernie Sanders and Charles Grassley, the provisions require only that a good faith effort be made to hire American workers over foreign workers, but the increased government scrutiny over the recipients of federal bailout money should give pause to any employer seeking to violate the spirit of this rule. Substantial research has shown that, despite an abundance of well educated domestic talent, employers often seek to hire foreign workers in an attempt to lower labor costs.

    http://www.beyondthemargin.net/2009/02/immigration-reform.html

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  8. Henry Diaz

    Some attention should be given to the reality in America that jobs exist here which Americans will not do. It does not seem that wages are the main consideration. Americans, white or black, just don’t apply for service jobs or manual labor jobs. Wages are based on how much the customer is willing to pay for basic services that do not required technical skill. A plumber or electrician can charge a hefty hourly cost, but a labor job cannot.

    I don’t believe that immigrants are taking jobs away from American citizens that want to work.

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