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Where Did This Obama Immigration Speech Come From?

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Obama Administration has engaged in multiple behind-the-scenes and public efforts on comprehensive immigration reform this week. But it remains to be seen whether this will yield any results.

On Monday, the White House hastily called a meeting between the President and immigration reform advocates – it wasn’t on the initial schedule. That was followed up yesterday by a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The White House provided a readout here. Finally, this will culminate with Obama giving a formal speech on immigration at American University tomorrow.

The LA Times described this as new backing from the President. The strategy appears to be to finish work on the bill during the lame-duck session (and between the fiscal commission’s recommendations, a climate bill conference report and now this, all of which have been floated for voting in November and December, that’s shaping up to be one heck of a lame duck session).

It would be a revival worthy of Lazarus, but President Obama is making a renewed push for an immigration overhaul, possibly during a lame-duck session of Congress after the November election — when members would no longer face an imminent political risk for supporting it […]

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at his daily briefing Tuesday that “this continues to be a very important national issue” requiring Republican support. To date, no Republican senators have agreed to back a comprehensive immigration bill. Nor has such a bill been introduced in the Senate.

Obama “can’t sign something that doesn’t exist,” said one person who was at the White House meeting.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, at least, seemed pleased that the President was being “assertive” on the issue, with the meetings and tomorrow’s speech. Progressive Caucus co-chair Raul Grijalva echoed that in a live chat at Crooks and Liars today, saying that “the president brought urgency to the issue, and I was encouraged by that.” He said that the main focus in the next few months would be trying to wrangle Republican support.

You might as well say that the main focus in the next few months would be trying to extract peanut butter from Mount Rushmore. Republicans aren’t in a helpful mood, especially not before an election. Grijalva amplified those comments by saying “the importance of having the legislative process begin is for the American people to really see who is preventing any progress on the issue. It won’t be a surprise to see the GOP leadership in the House and Senate doing everything possible to stop CIR and to exploit the issue for the midterm elections.” That could work to Democratic advantage in states with growing Hispanic populations, but I don’t think it gets anyone that close to a bill.

Indeed, many advocates don’t see high hopes for an actual bill this year, despite the renewed focus.

“At this point, we’re looking at George W. Bush longingly,” joked Louie Gilot of the Border Network for Human Rights, based in El Paso. “We were promised change by the administration. But we’re not only getting the same enforcement-only policy, we’re getting even more of it.”

Even one of the participants at the Monday meeting, Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change, was skeptical. “(Obama) was unambiguous about his commitment. The question is whether the actions will match the words over the next few weeks.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen