Now that President Obama has worked on the flagging economy, gotten the ball rolling on health care, education and energy reforms and readied more troops for Afghanistan, he’s turning his attention to immigration.
Obama will address the issue publicly in May and over the summer he plans to convene a bipartisan working group to begin drafting legislation that will give illegal immigrants a path to become legal, according to a New York Times report.
The goal will be making a “policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system,” Cecilia Muñoz, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs in the White House told the Times.
Obama pledged during his campaign to aggressively tackle the immigration issue within the first year of his term, attempting to make legal status possible for 12 million immigrants. All signs point to him keeping his oath.
“He intends to start the debate this year,” Muñoz told the Times.
Taking on such volatile wedge issue this early in his term, and while the economy is still ailing in the doldrums, could turn into a political war. Obama himself is aware of the danger; at a town hall meeting last month the president said as much.
"I know this is an emotional issue; I know it’s a controversial issue,” the president said in Costa Mesa, Calif. “I know that the people get real riled up politically about this."
The people who figure to get most riled up about his taking on immigration policy in the midst of a recession will likely be Republicans, who have hinted that they will “mobilize popular outrage” if the president goes ahead with his plan to legalize current illegal aliens, many of whom are working low-paying jobs, while so many Americans are unemployed.
“It just doesn’t seem rational that any political leader would say, let’s give millions of foreign workers permanent access to U.S. jobs when we have millions of Americans looking for jobs,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a group that favors reduced immigration in the Times article. “It’s going to be, ‘You’re letting them keep that job, when I could have that job.’ ”
Obama has already taken on some politically disastrous issues such as cap and trade emissions laws and health care reform as part of his $3.7 trillion budget proposal, the results of which are still to be seen.
Democratic legislative ides acknowledge that taking on immigration reform while health care looms as such an important issue could be a strain on the president’s domestic agenda.
But the White House is betting that public support will outweigh opposition once the details of their plan come to light starting in May.