Janison: Immigration reform still eludes us

President Barack Obama at the White House (June President Barack Obama at the White House (June 15, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10 years, much of which was spent as a ...

When President Barack Obama announced Friday that his administration would defer deportations of certain young illegal immigrants brought here as children, he spoke of what he was not doing.

"This is not amnesty," he said.

"This is not immunity.

"This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix."

Soon, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said it was not constitutional, as did other Republicans.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) vowed to sue to stop what Obama called his "temporary stopgap measure," which he condemned as a form of amnesty. King said, "This is no longer a debate about immigration policy."

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For years, the typical mainstream, bipartisan public position to spout regarding undocumented immigrants has sounded something like: "Find a proper process to deal with millions of illegal residents, without granting mass amnesty or sacrificing security."

But the overall story remains dominated by what hasn't happened.

In five years since Republican President George W. Bush and his would-have-been successor, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), found themselves stymied -- from within their party and outside of it -- on a compromise bill they helped craft, comprehensive immigration law reform has eluded Washington.

Coming less than five months before Election Day, Obama's policy change was clearly crafted to stir the Democratic base in his November campaign against Republican Mitt Romney.

Polls following the announcement indicated favorable reaction among Latino voters. As it happens, just two days before Obama's new deportation policy was announced, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush publicly warned Romney: "Don't just talk about Hispanics and say immediately we must have controlled borders. Change the tone would be the first thing. Second, on immigration, I think we need to have a broader approach."

Last September, some immigrant advocates on the left expressed dismay over Obama's administration -- which in less than three years deported more than 1 million illegal immigrants, compared with 1.57 million in all predecessor Bush's eight years. They said a crackdown was supposed to go with comprehensive immigration reform, which clearly was not happening in Congress.

But any occupant of the White House can change the conversation in a single news conference. Instantly, Washington policy buzz veered away from news leaks about cybersecurity and House Republicans' targeting of "Fast and Furious" -- the federal gun sting that by most accounts ended up putting some weapons in the hands of bad guys.

As soon as Obama spoke, New York candidates fell in along party lines.

Shortly after Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) issued a statement saying a caseworker in his office would help district residents who apply for this temporary legal status, his GOP challenger Randy Altschuler blasted "using taxpayer funded employees . . . to implement President Obama's unilateral, backdoor amnesty program for illegal immigrants."

With equal partisan fealty, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted, in abbreviated form, that she was "very pleased" by Obama's "new plan to halt deportations and grant work permits to many young undocumented."

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And on Sunday, all three of her potential GOP rivals running in a primary Tuesday criticized the policy.

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