Analysis: Why Immigration Reform Isn't a Guarantee

Replaying Obama's first-term track record on immigration.

ByABC News
November 8, 2012, 10:58 AM

Nov. 8, 2012— -- After billions of dollars and more than a year on the campaign trail, Barack Obama has won four more years in the Oval Office.

A big part of why he won? Latino voters.

Even before the Obama victory, some analysts, like CNN's David Gergen, speculated that Latino voting power would translate into immigration policy change: "In the next term, whoever is elected, we will get immigration reform. Democrats want it and Republicans now need it."

Immigration reform is possible in the next four years but by no means a guarantee.

Yes, Obama said he is confident Congress will pass an immigration reform bill in his first year. Yes, his vice president, Joe Biden, said the president and fellow Democrats are "breaking our neck" to get immigration reform done.

But this all sounds familiar. During his 2008 campaign, Obama vowed to pass immigration reform in his first year.

He even inherited a supportive Congress, a hopeful electorate and diminishing illegal immigration from Mexico, yet that never translated into legislative change. Congress did not pass an immigration reform bill.

Political news has a short shelf life, and never more than during campaign season, when the media jumps from soundbite to soundbite, and when politicians contort and contradict themselves in an effort to appease disparate voting blocs. But to understand why immigration reform not might happen -- regardless of what the president says -- we need to look back to how reform fell flat the first time around.

What did happen during Obama's first two years in office? Deportations increased to record levels. The government continued to outsource immigration detention to for-profit companies. A new federal immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities forced local police across the country to share inmate fingerprints with Homeland Security.

In the early days of the presidency, reform seemed like a real possibility. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., put together a framework for immigration reform legislation, and he rolled out his seven core policy principles at a Georgetown law conference in June 2009.

Those principles included an important but contentious ask -- a path to legalization for the estimated 12 million undocumented people in this country. The broader set of principles, however, leaned heavily on border security and employment fraud detection programs, including the requirement that all U.S. employees verify their identity through a fingerprint or an eye scan.

At the Georgetown conference, Schumer struck a conservative tone on the issue: