Immigration Reform 2013: Is Obama's Legacy About to Be Dealt a Major Blow?


Since his first campaign in 2008, one of President Obama's priorities has been to reform our immigration system. Given the importance of this issue, one would expect him to present his ideas to Congress and guide the process, to control its destiny, and cement his legacy. Instead, he has left it entirely to Congress. Rather than control how history remembers his eight years as president, Congress will decide. If Congress fails, so does Obama and his legacy.

During his first term, the president did not introduce, and Congress did not initiate legislation dealing with the immigration reform. During the campaign for his second term, the president repeated his promise to get this done. Yet with the start of his second term there was no proposal, only general statements. Congress asked for leadership from the president but was told it was up to them.

The election put the Republican Party in a position where they knew action was needed, if for nothing else, damage control. The time was ripe for President Obama to take control of the issue and make immigration reform a shining milestone of the first year of his second term and a major accomplishment of his presidency. Nothing.

Instead, a group of eight senators lead by Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) crafted a detailed, bipartisan plan. This plan was endorsed by the president only after it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. The House of Representatives is considering its own bipartisan plan. At the same time, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is introducing bills that attack the issue using a piecemeal approach. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has yet to commit to which path he will follow.

The senators who crafted the Senate immigration bill have stated a piecemeal approach that is not acceptable. This means no corresponding Senate bills, no conference committee, and no bill to the president. If the president is concerned about the impact of immigration reform on his legacy, one has to wonder why he is not working to ensure the comprehensive bill is the one that proceeds through the process.

The Senate will finalize action on their bill this month. Not to be deterred, Goodlatte has introduced three bills covering guest workers, high-skilled workers, and implementation of the E-Verify system. If these were part of a comprehensive bill, I believe agreement could be reached in conference. There's no chance of any variation of these becoming law it dealt with separately.

Rightly or wrongly, President Obama is perceived to be a hands-off leader, presenting superficial ideas or general policy statements and waiting for others to act. If something succeeds, he'll take credit. If the result is failure, he'll blame those who he abrogated responsibility to.

If President Obama wants his legacy to be more than being America's first African-American president, he is not showing it during debate on immigration reform. If congressional leaders produce immigration reform legislation that is signed into law, the president will unjustly take credit, boast about achieving a major goal, and claim it as part of his legacy. If immigration reform fails, he will blame Congress and blame the GOP. However, as much as he'll try to avoid it, the failure is what will be remembered as part of his legacy.