WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama has a complicated history with the politics of immigration.
The son of a Kenyan immigrant, Obama has been both embraced and scorned by immigrant advocates who have viewed him as both a champion and an obstacle to their cause.
In 2006, about 30 Mexican nationals desperate to avoid deportations that would separate them from their families appealed to him for help when he was their US senator. He turned them down.
Now, as president, a similar decision is upon him again, this time with the status of millions of immigrants at stake.
Advocacy groups are hoping that Obama will leave a mark for posterity by moving to allow work permits for millions of immigrants living illegally in this country.
In this June 30 file photo, President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, pauses while making a statement about immigration reform, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Obama over time has been embraced and scorned by immigrant advocates who have viewed him as both a champion and an obstacle to their cause – AP
“Some of the hard feelings could be forgotten at the end of the day if he acts boldly,” said Janet Murguia, the president of the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group.
Obama’s record on immigration, however, is one of caution and deliberation punctuated by moments of determination amid some broken promises. With the president delaying executive action on the work permits until after the November congressional election, some Democrats worry that expectations have been raised beyond what he can deliver.
“If they weren’t sky high before, they are now,” said Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “I’m not convinced they will meet the expectations of the Hispanic community.”
White House officials say the delay will not affect the scope of what Obama intends to do.
“The goal is going to be to do as meaningful a package of reforms as is available to the president through his executive authority,” White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri said.
Over time, Obama has built a varied immigration record.
In 2006, Obama also angered Latino leaders when he voted to erect a 700-mile double fence along the US-Mexico border. He backed compromise legislation in 2007 to overhaul immigration laws. Whether his support for a labor-backed change to the legislation contributed to the bill’s demise remains a point of debate.
During the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign, Obama took the side of pro-immigrant forces in supporting driver’s licenses for immigrants living illegally in the United States. That stand distinguished him from Hillary Rodham Clinton, who opposed them.