Immigration Reform 2013: What the President Can Learn From the Obamacare Battle


Immigration reform is at the forefront of President Obama's agenda for the year. He plans to make it a major part of his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, February 12.  However, like with everything else the president has done so far, his immigration reform does not come without controversy — harkening back to his Obamacare effort.

Looking at Obama's plan, it is quite similar to the bipartisan group of senators one labeled the "gang of eight" — and their plan to make it possible for 11 million illegal immigrants to achieve citizenship. This includes granting "probationary legal status" for eligible undocumented workers, learning English, and paying taxes. While this measure has been praised by Obama recently, it now appears the plan could be dead in the water thanks to Obama himself.

Apparently, Obama has his own strings attached to immigration reform. He is against the "border security plan" first, which was the main stipulation brought forth by the conservatives within the "gang of eight." Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he "will not be supporting any law that does not ensure that the enforcement things happen."

Another wrench Obama has thrown into his immigration reform is guaranteeing bi-national same sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. Just as both Senate and House members were warming up to the idea of immigration reform, Obama's extra additives could throw the reform effort into limbo. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, "what is more important, LGBT or border security?"  

McCain is right. The two issues are completely separate. Obama is being reckless in using this issue to go along with immigration reform. At this juncture, he risks conservatives abandoning the effort for immigration reform and others who were on board. He will lose the "gang of eight" backing for sure. He will receive the same backlash he got with the passage of Obamacare.

President Obama seems to be using the same tactics he did when trying to pass Obamacare. In November 2009, the House barely passed a version of the bill, 220-215, and in December 2009, the Senate passed the bill 60-39. But just because it passed does not mean it was not without a fierce battle.

Right now, there are multiple companies suing on the basis of religious freedoms largely because of Obamacare's contraceptive mandate. Just because the Supreme Court declared Obamacare constitutional does not mean it has not been bitterly opposed, and will be for the foreseeable future. And if his immigration reform is forced like Obamacare was through Congress it could mean a bloody, bitter political war.

President Obama should exercise caution. He is going off on his own path instead of working with Congress. If he chooses to approach immigration reform this way, he will once again alienate a host of congressional members. He has to work with Congress not against them. It will guarantee more court battles and intense showdowns. But most importantly, it will ensure that immigration reform will not happen while he is in office.