The healthcare battle has helped push immigration reform into next year, when midterm elections may make the task even harder.
In announcing Monday that immigration reform would be shelved until 2010, President Obama was simply bowing to political reality, say observers.
After bruising battles over healthcare and major initiatives on financial oversight and climate change, the president may not have the political capital needed to oversee any time soon a controversial overhaul of the immigration system – something former President George W. Bush tried and failed to get through Congress twice.
“The longer the healthcare debate drags out not only does it make it harder to get healthcare passed, it makes it harder to get immigration passed,” says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies.
Yet the longer the president waits, the challenges of overhauling the system will only mount, say analysts. Next year Congress will face midterm elections and introducing a bill that could create a “path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants – what critics call amnesty – would be a political gamble in a time of recession and high unemployment.
Hispanic groups press on
But immigrant advocacy groups have been keeping up the pressure to hold Mr. Obama to his promise to Hispanic voters – that he’d make immigration reform a top priority during his first year in office.
“If we don’t see a vote in Congress sooner than later, we will see a large Latino community not showing up at polls in midterm elections…. That is something the Democratic Party needs to measure,” says Francisco Lopez, executive director of CAUSA, the largest Hispanic advocacy group in the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s a very challenging time for the president, but the emerging Latino community is expecting the president and Congress to keep their promise,” says Mr. Lopez.
He added that he was disappointed to hear the president wouldn’t push for reform this year, but not surprised.