Moderation with principles

The White House said that on Tuesday, President Obama will present to Congress an agenda for a “year of action”—a draft in which immigration reform will play a central part. The question is whether this time, he will be more successful than in the past.

What is certain is that millions of immigrants are still frustrated, seeing how the Senate’s comprehensive bipartisan reform bill fell apart in the House of Representatives. The House’s Republican leadership is considering the possibility of passing independent measures related to immigration.

In reality, there is still nothing concrete about what action the House of Representatives will take. For weeks, there has been talk about a declaration of principles to guide Republican representatives on immigration. That is still just speculation.

The president wants reform this year. Therefore, his annual State of the Union speech will supposedly be moderate, without attacks on House Republicans in order to give their leadership some room to maneuver in the internal struggle with its toughest wing on immigration. Obama used that same strategy unsuccessfully last year, dedicating just 300 words to immigration during an almost 7,000-word speech.

The president has relaxed his demands for comprehensive reform, as long as the House passes some measure that can be negotiated with the Senate. And from there, to be able to have a reform that includes legalization, without hurting the possibility of beneficiaries being able to apply for citizenship after a certain period of time.

The strategy demonstrates the White House’s inability to overcome the obstacles to reform. Without immigration reform, Obama’s legacy will be limited to record deportations and disappointed voters. Despite the fact that Republicans are blocking comprehensive reform, voters are holding the president responsible for breaking his election promise to accomplish this reform.

On Tuesday, President Obama can use a diplomatic, non-confrontational tone on immigration. However, it is essential that, when it comes to negotiating, the basic principles set forth in the Senate bill are maintained.