Whether President Barack Obama announces his new program this week or next, one thing is certain; many people will be disappointed in it. Even if it is the sort of massive program that will provide protections for 5 million people, it will still leave just as many people out in the cold. If you know 10 undocumented immigrants, five of them will not be helped. We often tend to focus on who was excluded when these sorts of big immigration announcements occur and that is very understandable.
What we also have to recall is that the American people have a short attention span. Forty-eight hours after the announcement, most voters will have made up their minds whether the new program is good or bad for America. They will hear attacks on the Obama plan, whatever it is, from the far right. There may even be a broader backlash from conservatives generally. The question is, what will be the message Americans hear from us?
If during the couple of days that the media focuses on the immigration executive order the voters hear mostly criticism from us, the executive order will quickly become an orphan. If instead of defending the president’s action we attack him, we can expect that the people will take away the message that the executive action is bad. At that point it becomes very perishable.
If there is no political advantage in defending it, we may see Obama walk it back. And the real problem will come in 26 months when a new president takes office. If there is no constituency behind the president’s order, don’t expect next year’s crop of presidential aspirants to campaign on keeping it if they win. And, of course, we know many will try to make political hay by promising to overturn it.
Obama’s order, if it is even reasonably good, must be fiercely defended if it is to provide a meaningful lever for fuller immigration reform.