EL PASO, Texas – President Barack Obama visited the southern border to push for an overhaul of the immigration system, part of a renewed effort to shore up his standing among Latino voters and paint Republicans as hostile to a minority group that is a growing force in U.S. politics.
Chances of passing an immigration bill are considered to be low, but the White House is taking high-visibility steps to show it is not abandoning a goal that has its roots in the 2008 campaign.
Obama came to a spot near the international bridge leading to Mexico – so close to the boundary line that a Mexican flag could be seen waving in the hot breeze. He said his administration has made great strides in stopping immigrants from illegally crossing the southern border, but added that the problem requires a “comprehensive” solution that would include a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million people living illegally in the U.S.
Asking the audience to pay special attention, he accused Republicans of moving “the goal posts.”
“They said we needed to triple the border patrol,” said the president, addressing an enthusiastic outdoor crowd. “But now they’re going to say we need to quadruple the border patrol. Or they’ll want a higher fence. Maybe they’ll say we need a moat. Maybe they’ll want alligators in the moat. They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics.”
With Obama running for re-election, Republicans have questioned the sincerity and timing of his immigration push. White House aides have not released a timetable for passing a bill, nor put forward a draft.
What’s more, the political conditions for taking up an immigration bill are worse than in the first two years of Obama’s presidency, when he was unable to get a bill passed. Republicans, who won a majority in the House in the 2010 midterm elections, have filled key committee posts with legislators who strictly oppose a pathway to legal status.
Obama has refocused on immigration at a time when his approval rating among Latino voters has begun to slip. Obama received two-thirds of the Latino vote in 2008. A recent Gallup poll showed that his support among Latinos had fallen to 54 percent.
Disenchantment among Latinos comes from the stalled immigration effort paired with aggressive deportation policies. In Obama’s first two years in office, the U.S. deported about 783,000 people, 19 percent more than were deported in the last two years of George W. Bush’s presidency. Although Obama has said enforcement agents target criminals, plenty of immigrants without criminal records are getting swept up.