President Obama can do something memorable in his January 28, 2014 State of the Union speech: issue an Executive Order ending the deportation of law-abiding undocumented immigrants. The time for action is now. House Republicans refuse to support a path to citizenship, and Obama has waited long enough. The State of the Union gives Obama the perfect platform to announce "the time is now," and to take immigration reform into his own hands.
Barack Obama's 2009 speech was the first State of the Union address I ever watched from beginning to end. Since that time, Obama's reluctance to act boldly in the face of GOP obstructionism has made his annual speech politically irrelevant. It's nice to hear a President talk about raising the minimum wage and the need for comprehensive immigration reform, but in year six his supporters have a right to demand action.
No Excuse for Delay
In David Remnick's recent New Yorker profile of Obama, the President said he would use Executive Orders to prevent Congress from blocking his agenda. So why is his Administration deporting immigrants at record rates when the President could issue an order stopping this?
The answer, unfortunately, is that Barack Obama governs not as a former community organizer willing to break boundaries to achieve social justice, but as a former constitutional law professor ever-fearful of crossing the law.
What does Obama fear by suspending deportations of law-abiding undocumented immigrants pending Congressional action? Most Americans support reform. Obama's political base passionately favor protecting undocumented immigrants. Such an Executive Order would galvanize Latino voters for the 2014 midterm elections.
The only political motivation for not announcing a suspension of deportations would be if Obama had "inside" information that House Republicans will soon act. Based on Obama's past mistaken trust in the GOP -- his giving it influence over a health care bill that the Party wanted to sabotage, and his belief that House Republicans would never impose the sequester due to its defense cuts -- such "inside" information should not be trusted.
Obama's Immigration Legacy
In exchange for Latino votes giving him the presidency in 2008 and 2012, what has Barack Obama done for Latino immigrants other than the Deferred Action order that he issued under extreme pressure from DREAM ACTivists in 2012?
He's given a lot of great speeches on the need for reform. In the past year he has fully cooperated with legislative and activist strategy initiatives.
But he has not done everything in his power to protect immigrants from deportation. To the contrary, his Administration has broken records with its number of deportations.
If we ignored Obama's words and just looked at the results, we'd conclude he was no ally of the undocumented immigrant cause. And for activists who still have faith in Obama, his actual track record has to be the bottom line.
Absent Obama's action, the earliest prospect for a legislative fix for the eight to twelve million undocumented immigrants is in September, after the House Republican primaries.
We are supposed to believe that the House will do something major for a solid Democratic Party constituency two months before the November elections, alienating its core older white voting base in the process.
On January 20, 2013, White House Senior Advisor David Plouffe toured the Sunday talk shows with an optimistic message on immigration reform, saying "there's no reason" that "it shouldn't pass," and adding, "this is the moment." When this did not happen, I recall seeing a tweet from Plouffe later in the year saying that anyone who thought immigration reform could pass in 2015 -- when the Republican presidential nomination contest essentially begins -- was out of their mind.
So the time for action really is now. And if Barack Obama misses this opportunity to take bold Executive Action, activists should ratchet up their protests against the President for not stopping ongoing deportations.
Randy Shaw, publisher of Beyond Chron, analyzes activists' relationship with Obama on immigration reform in his new book, The Activist's Handbook, 2nd ed.:Winning Social Change in the 21st Century.