For President Barack Obama, it has become a torturous routine — appearing on Spanish-language television to try to defend his record on reshaping the nation’s immigration laws.
On each occasion, he has been reminded that he broke his 2008 campaign promise to reform the system and that his administration is on track to deport more people than any other president in U.S. history.
Yet he will go at it again Wednesday in Miami, a majority Hispanic city in America’s largest swing state, this time in an attempt to reassure people in the country illegally that his latest executive action, which would shield up to five million people from deportation, stands on strong legal footing. A federal judge in Texas temporarily suspended the order last week, ruling that the president had overstepped his power. The Justice Department has appealed.
“My administration will fight this ruling with every tool at our disposal, and I have full confidence that these actions will ultimately be upheld,” Obama wrote in an op-ed published Tuesday by The Hill.
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The president is expected to take questions Wednesday directly from undocumented immigrants at the taping of an event at Florida International University that will later air nationally on Miami-based Telemundo and sister network MSNBC. He will also likely address the Homeland Security Department budget, which is pending in Congress amid a political fight over funding Obama’s executive immigration actions. A Friday deadline looms.
“President Obama is on defense over his immigration overreach and is struggling to find a legal response to a federal court blocking his unprecedented executive action,” Ruth Guerra, director of Hispanic media for the Republican National Committee, said in a statement. “So he’s doing the only thing he knows how to do: hit the campaign trail.”
Though billed as a “town hall,” tickets for Wednesday’s private event were distributed by organizers and not made publicly available. Telemundo and MSNBC rented the public Graham Center facility at FIU’s main campus for about $39,000, according to a copy of the contract.
Obama’s visit comes at a time when his legacy on immigration is in danger. Unable since 2009 to convince Congress to give the nation’s up to 12 million undocumented immigrants permanent legal status, he has used his powers to force the issue in the twilight of his presidency.
The first Obama immigration order, signed in 2012 and known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, remains in effect. The second, signed in November to expand DACA and establish Deferred Action for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, was halted in Texas as part of a lawsuit filed by 26 states, including Florida.
Those actions — one granting temporary legal status to people brought into the country illegally as children, the other expanding that program and creating a new one applying to parents of U.S. citizens and residents — appear likely to be Obama’s only legacy on immigration, which has already become entangled in a new presidential campaign.
Consider the reception Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential presidential candidate who pushed for immigration reform in 2013, got on his recent book tour.
In Miami last Friday, Rubio was heckled — and given the middle finger — by young immigration activists who faulted him for not doing more to help the undocumented. In New Hampshire three days later, a Republican bluntly asked Rubio if he would commit to deporting everyone who’s in the country illegally, a suggestion the senator called unrealistic.
“I’m the only one who gets heckled by both sides of the immigration debate,” Rubio had concluded in Miami.
Come September, the date of the first scheduled Republican presidential debate, forget anyone in Congress proposing immigration legislation, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told the Miami Herald’s editorial board Monday. One of his brothers, Telemundo and MSNBC anchor José Díaz-Balart, will moderate the Obama interview.
“The right goes further to the right. The left goes further to the left,” the Miami Republican said. “The possibility of meeting in the middle vanishes.”
None of the Miami Republicans in Congress — Diaz-Balart and Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — need persuading from the president to support reforms. But they have criticized how Obama, who didn’t push an immigration law when both chambers of Congress were controlled by Democrats, has now sidestepped the legislative branch altogether.
“Obama is not the only culprit,” Diaz-Balart said. “But he’s not been helpful.”
Immigration advocates know they’ve been “played” politically, said Cristina Jimenez, co-founder and managing director for United We Dream, who plans to attend Wednesday’s event.
“It’s really difficult to forget” the number of deportations under Obama — more than 1.6 million — said Jimenez, whose parents brought her to New York from Ecuador illegally when she was 13. But Republicans have not found a way to speak to the immigrant community, added Jimenez, who is now a legal resident.
“Right now, he’s the only one who’s proposed a solution,” she said. “Even though it’s temporary.”
PRESIDENTIAL TRAFFIC ALERT
Motorists can expect delays on Wednesday afternoon in and around Florida International University and Miami International Airport during President Barack Obama’s visit.
The event, billed as a “town hall,” will be taped at FIU and later aired nationally on Miami-based Telemundo and sister network MSNBC on Wednesday night.