CNN cast President Obama and the Democrats' continued push to pass comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship as a false choice between bipartisan compromise or playing politics, arguing that if Obama rejected a Republican deal that included only legal status for undocumented immigrants, he would be risking his legacy over politics.
In his State of the Union address, Obama urged Congress to "fix our broken immigration system," saying:
OBAMA: Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted, and I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams -- to study, invent, contribute to our culture -- they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let's get immigration reform done this year. Let's get it done. It's time.
During CNN's post-SOTU coverage, chief national correspondent John King stated that to get immigration reform passed this year, Obama "likely would have to accept something from the House, the Republican House, short of what he wants. The president has said, 'I won't sign it unless it gives a path to citizenship.'" King continued:
KING: What if the House does legal status and sends it to the president? And then [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi and [Senate Democratic Leader] Harry Reid come to him saying, "veto it, we want the issue to attract Latino voters in the campaign." Does the president look at his legacy and say, "I'll take it, that's 80 percent, and then we'll fight for more," or does he take the politics?
New York Times correspondent Jonathan Martin added that "the question comes down to President Obama and also some of the Hispanic advocacy groups: Are they going to cast a path to legal status but not citizenship as something between either a half a loaf as John put it or is it a poison pill?"
KING: In Ronald Reagan days, 80 percent was a pretty good deal. If the president can get a guest-worker program, can get the high-tech visas, can get some of the other things that he wanted that are not related to the big issue that derails this every time, which is citizenship or status or nothing, if he could get status, does he sign that for his legacy, or do the Democrats say, Mr. President, don't give that to Republicans?
However, defining support for a pathway to citizenship as political gamesmanship is faulty for several reasons:
- Obama, Democratic lawmakers, and even a few Republicans have repeatedly maintained that offering only legal status to undocumented immigrants is "un-American" and would create "two classes of people in this country." Obama has said it is "not who we are as Americans" and "never been our tradition."
- A sizeable number of Republicans support an immigration bill that includes an eventual path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte. What Republicans reject is a "special" path that could be created for those here illegally. As MSNBC noted, " 'no special path to citizenship' doesn't mean 'no new citizens.' "
- Americans overwhelmingly support allowing undocumented immigrants to eventually become citizens. A recent Associated Press poll found that six in 10 Americans favor the idea. Republicans and those who identify as Republican also support an eventual path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. A recent Fox News poll found that 60 percent of Republicans favor such an idea.
- Ironically, President Reagan signed an immigration reform bill that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship after just six and a half years, following the requisite five-year wait after getting a green card. The Senate plan that Obama supports extends it to at least 13 years, which 68 percent of Americans say is too long.
- Republicans have repeatedly blocked efforts to reform the immigration system, and the narrative that it would now be Obama and the Democrats' fault for killing reform is akin to the debunked talking point that Obama refused to pass a reform bill in 2010 when he had a "filibuster-proof majority."