WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is returning Tuesday to the city where he says he first forged his ties to the Latino community to pitch his new executive actions on immigration.
Obama was headed to his adopted hometown of Chicago, trying to seize the advantage in the heated dispute over the contentious issue of immigration while Congress is on a holiday recess and Republicans scramble to coalesce behind a unified opposition strategy. Obama announced last week he would break Washington’s immigration stalemate by protecting nearly 5 million immigrants from deportation by offering them work permits.
The president was scheduled to speak to Chicago community leaders, part of an ongoing effort to defend and promote his decision to bypass Congress.
Obama’s unilateral move has incensed Republicans, who must strike a delicate balance in their response: an overheated reaction could alienate the rapidly growing Latino block of voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election, but a lukewarm one could leave their conservative base feeling left out in the cold. Republicans, emboldened by sweeping victories in this month’s congressional elections, have vowed to rein Obama in, but have not fallen behind any specific plan.
Obama will speak at a centre in the city’s predominantly Polish-American far northwest side, underscoring how his immigration measures would affect more than Latino immigrants. Chicago has the largest population of Poles in the United States.
The president’s measures could benefit about 45 per cent of the total number of immigrants who either entered the country illegally or have overstayed their visas.
Chicago is where Obama moved to work as a young community organizer in the 1980s. Its metropolitan area has the fifth largest Latino population in the U.S.
Obama is expected to highlight what the White House says are the economic advantages of his executive decision and to counter Republican criticism that his measures exceed his authority. The Chicago visit is his second trip out of Washington to draw attention to his actions since he announced them Thursday. Last Friday, the president spoke in Las Vegas, another city with a large Latino population.
Obama has a mixed history in Chicago over the question of immigration. He conceded in his 2006 book “The Audacity of Hope” that his experiences there led him to reflect on the meaning of citizenship and “my sometimes conflicted feelings about all the changes that are taking place.”
In 2006, when he was a senator from Illinois, he denied a request from about 30 Mexican nationals living in Chicago for a special piece of legislation that would protect them from deportation. The decision infuriated immigration activists in the city.
But Obama has also backed an overhaul of immigration law, and while he initially angered advocacy groups by delaying his executive actions until after this month’s midterm elections, last week’s measures have generally been greeted with enthusiasm from immigration advocates and Latino groups.