May 10, 2011 / 11:58 PM / in 7 years

Analysis: Obama's immigration speech no game changer

PHOENIX (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s impassioned call for immigration reform is unlikely to break a deadlock with Republicans on the issue and has little new to hearten Hispanics he needs to win reelection, analysts said on Tuesday.

In a speech in El Paso, Texas, earlier in the day Obama reiterated his support for a major immigration shake-up, giving millions of illegal immigrants a shot at citizenship if they pay a fine and go to the back of the line.

He said his administration had met Republican concerns over security on the porous Mexico border by boosting the number of federal border police, as well as adding unmanned surveillance drones and additional fencing.

But Obama offered no concrete policy initiatives or timelines for introducing legislation, only underlining the fact he is unlikely to push a major overhaul before he faces reelection in 2012, analysts said.

“He’s checking a box for the constituent groups that care ... but there is no way to move this ball forward, ” said Steven Camarota, research director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a pro-enforcement think-tank.

Obama flagged what he said were gains in security along the porous U.S.-Mexican border.

Additional Border Patrol agents, customs inspectors and law enforcement officials have contributed to rising drug seizures and a decline in the number of arrests of illegal immigrants, Obama said.

But with control of the U.S. House of Representatives and a stronger hand in the U.S. Senate since November midterm elections, analysts said there is no willingness among Republicans to make common ground with Democrats.

“Right now, you have a Republican Party that is in no mood to compromise on this issue,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University in Texas.

“Absent from the entire speech was any discussion of Congress ... I haven’t seen any real plan about how you get this through the Republican House,” he added.


Obama’s failure to date to get broader legislation on immigration through Congress has upset many Hispanic voters, who turned out by a more than 2-to-1 margin to vote for him in 2008.

Hispanic activists said they found little to hearten them in the president’s rallying call for reform on Tuesday.

“Actions definitely speak louder than words, and this was no different from speeches we have heard in the past,” said Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network that advocates for immigrants’ rights.

“The conversation at the dinner table is ‘what has he done for Latinos?’ The answer is ‘nothing,'” he told Reuters.

Many Latinos are also disappointed with Obama’s inability to deliver the “Dream Act” -- legislation that would give some people brought to the country illegally as children a shot at legal status. The bill failed to clear the U.S. Senate last year.

Some are also riled at Obama over his administration’s revved-up deportation program that removed 394,000 illegal immigrants last year.

“The fact of the matter is that president Obama has deported more people than President (George W.) Bush’s administration ever did ... and what he promised today was more of the same,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO).

“How is that going to excite me as a Latino voter to hold on for a few more years?” he added.

Editing by Jerry Norton

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