Obama blasted for immigration delay

Train in Mexico Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Many travel to the US border by leaping on to freight trains

President Barack Obama is taking heavy criticism from the left and the right over his decision to put off any unilateral executive action on immigration reform until after November's midterm congressional elections.

Three months after promising to use executive orders to fix a "broken" immigration system, the president now says his plans have been shelved until after the midterm elections.

It was expected that he would bypass Congress in order to enact changes to visa rules, boost border security and give a path to citizenship for some 11 million US-based illegal immigrants.

In recent months, the issue has become more acute because tens of thousands of people from Central America have tried to get into the US from Mexico, many of them unaccompanied children. It's a situation Mr Obama has called a "humanitarian crisis".

In a Sunday interview on the political talk show Meet the Press, the president explained that the politics had shifted since he made a late-June promise to make a move before the "end of summer", forcing him to revise his deadline.

"I want to spend some time, even as we're getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we're doing this, why it's the right thing for the American people, why it's the right thing for the American economy," the president said.

On Saturday, however, a White House official in a background email to the Washington Post was more blunt about the political calculus behind the move:

"The reality the president has had to weigh is that we're in the midst of the political season, and because of the Republicans' extreme politicisation of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections."

The consensus conclusion is that the change of strategy will help take a controversial issue off the table for Democratic candidates running in hotly contested races. In midterm elections, turning out the party faithful can be decisive - and the president apparently concluded that anything he does on immigration would motivate grass-root conservatives to head to the polls without a sufficiently large boost in Hispanic support.

The success of this decision likely depends on how long the uproar lasts from those closely invested in the outcome of the current immigration reform debate. For now, it's at a fever pitch across the political spectrum.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Obama tells Meet the Press the politics have shifted on immigration reform

Pro-immigration supporters feel the president is putting immigration on the back burner once again. Salon's Gabriel Arana explains why the latest move is so devastating for reform advocates:

"The delay shows the president doesn't understand the moral crisis at the heart of the immigration debate, in which those looking to escape poverty get branded as parasites, their children as 'anchor babies'," he writes. "Lawmakers all 'play politics', but extending the suffering of this vulnerable population because it might save you a few votes at the ballot box is yet another sign you don't fully consider them Americans."

"A promise is a promise," tweeted Jorge Ramos, news anchor at Univision, an American Spanish language broadcaster.

"This presidential delay means that more innocent people will be deported and more families separated," he added.

The delay isn't a victory for those on the right who oppose any presidential action on the immigration issue, either. They're only more worried that they will be unable to deter an administration action once potential voter backlash is taken out of the equation.

"This is nothing more than a head fake to keep voters from punishing Democrats for Obama's attempts to abuse the separation-of-powers structure in American government," writes Hot Air's Ed Morrissey.

The libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation's Todd Gaziano tells Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post that if the president "had respect for the democratic process and he has no intention of changing his executive actions, then he should obviously announce what they are and let congressional candidates disclose whether they support such policies and think they are lawful."

And then there are those who see Mr Obama's handling of the issue as just another example of a White House that has become politically tone deaf and unable to formulate cohesive strategies to sell their policy programmes.

"President Barack Obama has one person to blame for looking indecisive, dithering and cowed by bungled political calculations: Barack Obama," writes Politico's Edward-Isaac Devere.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Immigration reform activists are angry over the president's decision to delay

"This is a re-occurring theme for Obama: repeatedly delivering bold speeches that set dazzlingly high bars for action, then slowly backpedalling into a muddle and letting the issue - and his poll numbers - fade away," he concludes.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones pushes back against these kinds of analyses, however.

"The truth is that anytime a president changes course, a bit of awkwardness is baked into the cake," he writes. "What's more, I don't see anything in Obama's actions that made this any better or worse than usual. It was pretty routine and will be forgotten by all but political junkies within days."

Perhaps. There are a great many moving parts to account for in the president's latest shift.

For conservatives, it is more difficult to get angry about a potential post-election move than target a concrete action that's already been taken.

Immigration activists have to balance the anger and resentment over what they see as a broken promise with the reality that eventual unilateral presidential action is their only hope for real reform any time soon.

For embattled Democrats facing midterm elections, the president's decision reveals a stark reality. Immigration reform was once considered a winning issue - one they could use to bludgeon their opponents on the campaign trail to garner support from a key demographic.

That, it appears, is no longer the case. But if immigration isn't a winner for them, what is?

According to the New York Times, Democrats have decided to place their bet on economic issues, such as the minimum wage, that appeal to single women.

The polls and focus groups have spoken. Immigration reform activists, it appears, are going to have to wait.