THE BLOG
11/27/2012 09:57 pm ET | Updated Jan 27, 2013

Immigration Reform and the Presidential Power

President Barack Obama's reelection has awoken great expectations among big sectors of the population, especially among the Hispanics. After the great deception that was Obama's broken promise to spearhead a comprehensive immigration reform during his first administration -- not to mention he had promised to present it during the first year of his administration -- many now believe that due to the enormous support that the Hispanics granted him last 6th of November, there will be no valid excuse for not embarking on the reform.

Beyond the great blow suffered by the Republicans because the minorities, particularly the Hispanics, overwhelmingly favored President Obama -- to the point that now there are many Republican leaders that insist in the need to erase that anti-immigration image left by the bloody battle sustained during the primary elections and the wishy-washy position assumed by its candidate with respect to the illegal immigrants -- truth is that the conditions to obtain a comprehensive immigration reform are now not much better than four years ago. And they aren't because in the current circumstances, President Obama's power is fenced-in.

Obama's triumph on November's elections could not be clearer. According to the Exit Poll conducted by Edison Research, cited in a recent article on the Urbancincy webpage:

"President Obama earned approximately 69.4 percent of the vote in cities with more than 500,000 people, and 58.4 percent of the vote in cities with 50,000 to 500,000 people. Furthermore, with the exception of Jacksonville and Salt Lake City's home counties, President Obama won the plurality of votes in every major American city." And this is not all. According to the same research, "President Obama earned the vote of 92.7 percent of black voters, 70.6 percent of Hispanic voters, 73.2 percent of Asian voters, and 57.7 percent of all other non-white voters."

Mitt Romney bet on the support from the white population and obtained, according to the same source 58.7 percent of their votes. Given the demographic changes that the country has undergone during the last few years, this was not enough for Romney to win to the presidency. But it was enough for his party to obtain the majority in the House of Representatives. According to an article by Emily Bazelon in Slate, "even though Obama won Pennsylvania by 5 points, Republicans took 13 of 18 House districts. In Ohio, Obama won by two and the GOP kept 12 of 16 House seats." And the same happened in other states: Obama won and the Republicans were left not only with the majority in the House of Representatives but in the states legislatures.

Although many voters divided their vote -- the president from one party and the Congressmen from another -- the apparent incongruence is mainly product of the so-called gerrymandering, a practice by which the limits of an electoral district are manipulated to favor a particular party or candidate. And, as is clearly explained in the All About Redistricting blog by professor Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School of Los Angeles:

"In most states, the state legislature has primary control of the redistricting process, both for state legislative districts and for congressional districts. 37 state legislatures have primary control of their own district lines, and 42 legislatures have primary control over the congressional lines in their state (including five of the states with just one congressional district)."

According to Bazelon, "Gerrymandering is an American game both parties play because the courts allow it and the voters don't punish them for it." Sometimes it's played by Democrats, other times by Republicans. In this occasion, the turn was for the Republicans, who took advantage of their winnings in the last legislative elections of 2010, "which, happily for them, was also a giant redistricting year because it followed the latest census."

Citing Columbia Law Professor Nathaniel Persily, Bazelon says:

"The upshot, in light of population distribution, is Democrats control the line drawing for 44 congressional seats and 885 state legislative seats, while Republicans control the line drawing for 210 congressional seats and 2,498 state legislative seats. No wonder the House stayed safely in Republican hands even though the presidency and the Senate did not."

And that division of powers has implications that go further than internal politics. According to a recent article by the respected Professor Paul Kennedy, "the foreign policies of the number one power are those of drifting slowly downstream, with little sense of destination." And when venturing into the reasons for this, he asks himself:

"Why not admit that the world's number one power is constitutionally flawed and inadequate when it comes to handling foreign-policy issues? (...) Since the U.S. president comes from one party, and the Congress may often be in the hands of the rival party, how can one expect firm decisions being made on tricky matters such as a policy towards the Palestinians or ways of cutting the defense budget? Often, the president seems less like the commander in chief than a latter-day Gulliver tied down by Lilliputians."

Kennedy states that it's not strange that because of this "most of the Earth's democracies have adopted a parliamentary rather than a presidential form of governance." I do not believe that such a radical change is needed. The more checks and balances, the merrier. But I do believe that it's necessary to pay more attention to the infamous gerrymandering. With things as they are -- and even though there are several districts that will be redefined during the next few years -- it will not be easy for the Republicans to lose their majority in the House, at least during the current administration. And that will make things difficult for President Barack Obama to keep all his promises. Specially the one of a comprehensive immigration reform, unless the Republicans, defeated during the last elections by minorities that are very interested in the issue of immigration, moderate their attitude and consider that said reform has become essential to keep their current bastions of power.