Why Is President Obama Sidestepping the Immigration Issue?

He has to balance race and politics, says Salon author Rich Benjamin.

Children at a Virginia citizenship ceremony - Getty Images
Children at a Virginia citizenship ceremony - Getty Images

President Obama has been criticized for not taking a more aggressive stance on immigration. His critics say he doesn’t want to be caught up in a contentious issue with important elections ahead. This author says it’s more complicated than that.


With his crammed domestic agenda and teetering approval ratings, President Obama is moseying away from immigration reform before the midterm elections. Even as he denounces Arizona’s drastic new measure, law-professor-style, the president is sending mixed signals. In an episode still rankling Latino advocates, the president recently declared that Congress might not have the “appetite” to push for reform — just as Democratic senators were poised to roll out … a reform agenda.
Further clouding Obama’s message is the fact that more immigrants were deported during his first year in office — more than 388,000 — than any other year in the republic’s history. To progressives, the president’s apparent “security first” approach makes it seem as though he’s trying to appease conservatives at the expense of Latinos. The big elephant in the room, one that Democrats and the media willfully ignore, is race. Not the race of immigrants — the race of the president. As the son of an immigrant and as a black man, Obama walks a sticky briar patch in handling reform. His management of his brand identity, especially his blackness, creates an aura of historic inclusion and racial reconciliation, even while it discourages too much diversity talk or racial grist. According to this stratagem, the president is a racial prophet with no racial agenda. Race does not play a role in Obama’s national problem solving, but it is central to his novelty and political brand. His image deftly depends on a racial identity even as it downplays it.

This political and racial double bind handicaps Obama’s aptitude for immigration reform. Any race-related issue, especially immigration reform, that isn’t properly and universally feel-good, is radioactive for this president.

Source: Salon.com. Read the entire article here.