President Obama gave his much anticipated speech on immigration reform today in Las Vegas, saying that too many of us make immigration into "us vs. them. ...A lot of folks forget that most of us used to be them." Obama supported all the same basic principles outlined by the bipartisan "gang of eight" senators who put together an immigration reform package over the weekend: giving green cards to Master's and PhD graduates in STEM fields, strengthening our borders, modernizing our current immigration system, and creating a long but doable pathway to citizenship for the illegal immigrants already here.
So why make the speech? To show that immigration reform will not just be backed by Obama the Executive, it will also get a needed push from Obama the Campaigner, and Obama might be the best campaigner in modern history. The pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, despite being time-consuming and costly, will lose the far right, but on immigration, there is still a moderate right (unlike, say abortion), and these are the politicians Obama the Campaigner can effectively pressure into working out a deal. Just as Republicans were cornered on the debt ceiling by a public that blamed them for their intransigence, Obama the Campaigner can make rejecting these sensible and centrist reforms look really bad in public.
Obama's push will likely get the Senate to pass an immigration bill with the basic principles outlined above, and that will make it difficult for the House to "make it their own," perhaps by removing any real path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
It shows that Obama has learned a big lesson from his first term: Obama the Executive needs Obama the Campaigner.