Obama’s Immigration Speech: Blog Reax

The speech in full (transcript here):

Chris Cillizza thought the speech “fit more neatly into the Obama of the 2008 campaign and the first term of his presidency — heavy on inspiration and imagery, relatively light on details and depth”:

It’s the sort of address Obama is both best at and most comfortable giving. The idea of what makes America America — particularly in the face of the unique challenges that the 21st century poses for the country on the domestic and international fronts — is something he has quite clearly spent significant time thinking about. The 2008 edition Obama we saw tonight is also, not coincidentally, the version most beloved by the base of the Democratic party. And, in truth, that’s who the speech was really aimed at.  The politics of immigration  are such that there were no words Obama could (or would be willing to) utter that would drastically reshape the coming fight over the issue.

Beinart argues that Obama “decided once again to trigger the hatred of defenders of the status quo because, I suspect, he knows American history well enough to know that real moral progress doesn’t happen any other way”:

Yes, Obama is a pragmatist. Yes, he is professorial. Yes, he wants to be liked by his ideological opponents and by the powers that be. But he also knows that were he in his twenties today—a young man of color with a foreign parent and a foreign-sounding name—he might be among those activists challenging the vicious injustice of America’s immigration system. When Obama talked about “the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love,” he wasn’t only comparing them to his daughters. He was comparing them to himself.

For progressives, this was always the real promise of Barack Obama. It was the promise that a black man with a Muslim name who had worked in Chicago’s ghettos—a man who had tasted what it means to a stranger in America—would bring that memory with him when he entered the White House. It’s a promise he fulfilled tonight.

Ramesh Ponnuru feels that, in Obama’s speech, the “policy and the rhetoric are at war with each other”:

I imagine that most left-wingers will rally behind the president’s immigration policy, especially since it appears to be a minority position. But some of them will be complaining that the president didn’t go far enough. And we should take a moment to appreciate that they have a point. The moralizing language Obama used, which essentially cast attempts to enforce the immigration laws as acts of indecency, are hard to square with the limits that he set.

JPod makes a version of the same argument:

Simply put, the president offers no explanation for why he is ordering these changes only for 5 million of the nearly 12 million illegals in the United States. Everything he said in his speech about the value of immigrants, and the need to show kindness to the stranger, ought in theory to apply to any illegal but a criminal. But Obama has limited its reach to people who have been here for several years and have children who are American citizens. This means either his arguments are disingenuous, or he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions, or he’s calibrating his responses to satisfy a political constituency without causing a wholesale eruption inside the country. Or all three.

Jonah Goldberg is on the same page:

This is the way this president and his fans always sell his policies. They mock, ridicule, snark, smirk, wink and guffaw at any notion he’s a radical or an ideologue when the action he wants to take is under debate. It’s just a modest This, a pragmatic That, an incremental The Other Thing. But, once it’s a fait accompli, it’s a Big F’ing Deal — to borrow a phrase from the Vice President. Right now, what Obama wants to do is par far for the course for every president Why, it would be weird if he didn’t give 5 million people amnesty. But I have no doubt that in the minutes, days, or, at the most, weeks to come I will be getting emails from the DNC telling me this a bold, historic, revolutionary piece of legislation executive action.

Dara Lind wonders how many undocumented immigrants will actually take advantage of the new policy:

In order for the program to be effective when it officially launches (which is expected to be in spring of 2015), people are going to have to apply. And that could be tricky. After all, these are people who’ve been living in the shadows for years — and have learned that any interaction with government officials could lead to their deportation.

The good news is that the administration, and community groups, have done something of a test run on the new program — via the DACA program in 2012. The push to get unauthorized immigrants to apply for DACA has created an existing infrastructure that can now be built on for the new, expanded relief programs. But in order to build on that, they’re going to need more money and more lawyers. And the government agency running the program, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, doesn’t have much money to spend on outreach.

Claire Groden expects that “Obama’s deportation order will affect fewer people than you’ve heard”:

[E]ven among those who will apply, not all will receive protection. Undocumented parents of legal residents and citizens will have to pass the same kind of background checks as those applying for visas, [the Migration Policy Institute’s Marc] Rosenblum said. People who will qualify under the expanded umbrella of DACA can’t have any felonies or significant misdemeanors on their track record. Protection is far from automatic: undocumented people will have to not only fit the eligibility requirements, but prove it.

Byron York views the speech as baldly political:

Obama’s action is not about winning broad support now. It’s a long-term effort to increase the number of Hispanic voters, who chose Obama over Mitt Romney by 71 percent to 27 percent in 2012. If that support can be cast in cement, and the number of Hispanic voters increased even beyond current demographic trends — well, that would be very good news for the future health of the Obama coalition.

Jamelle Bouie is unsure “how much the Democrats gain” from the executive order itself:

At most, the president’s immigration order might strengthen the short-term bonds among Latinos, Asians, and the Democratic Party. More significant, I think, is the Republican reaction. If the GOP reacts to the immigration order with unhinged hysteria and anti-immigrant animus … it could further estrange itself from these groups. And that, more than anything, could shift the long-term shape of our politics.

Ed Morrissey is puzzled by the “rather large gap between his speech tonight and the actual action Obama promises to take”:

Section 2 is titled in bold font, You Cannot Apply For Several Months. The start of the program is nebulously given as “early 2015,” which could mean anything from January 2 to, say, June 29th. Why not start now if Obama is so tired of waiting? One has to wonder whether this is a bluff of sorts, intended to scare House Republicans into passing the Senate bill in the waning days of the lame-duck session. If Obama’s willing to wait “several months” to take action, why not just wait and at least attempt negotiation with incoming Republican leadership?

Ambinder expects that “immigration politics will become nastier in the near-term”:

You think you’ve heard the last of talk radio hosts bloviating about Ebola-carrying migrants sneaking across the southern border? It’s about to get much worse, and much more toxic. By singling out certain classes of undocumented immigrants, Obama puts a bullseye on the backs of those who do not qualify for documented status. Add the idea that the president is acting like a dictator and — kaboom: the act of granting amnesty becomes even more associated with one political party.

And Suderman fears that real immigration reform just got harder:

Unprecedented, unpopular, large-scale, unilateral policy changes are nearly certain to produce a backlash—against the president, against his party, and against the ideas at the heart of the policy change itself.

To me, this is the most significant risk of Obama’s plan—that it will create a backlash, not only amongst congressional Republicans, but within the public at large, a backlash that makes it more difficult to achieve a stable, legal, and politically viable system of expanded and simplified immigration, one that is not dependent on a sympathetic executive or enforcement discretion, but that is codified in law and agreed upon by enough of the country’s residents and legislators.