Obama on Immigration: deja vu on didn’t do

President Barack Obama has moved from being disingenuous on immigration to downright undecipherable. Earlier this year, the administration promised a groundbreaking executive action on immigration before summer’s end. Over the weekend, aides announced that the big new change essentially won’t happen until after the midterm elections.

What’s up? Obama told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd on Sunday: “What I’m saying is that I’m going to act because it’s the right thing for the country, but it’s going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration, what we’ve done on unaccompanied children and why it’s necessary.”

What Obama couldn’t quite say is that if he further undermines immigration law, the Democrats will lose the Senate. And he couldn’t exactly blame Republicans for his decision to not act as promised. Ergo, gobbledygook.

Obamaland was easier to translate when the administration was crowing about how it was going to go beyond do-nothing Republicans on immigration and pass reforms this summer. Leaks suggested that millions of people might win legal status. Aide Dan Pfeiffer boasted to The Christian Science Monitor that the president would act so boldly that Republicans might try to impeach him.

Of course, it turned out to be a big tease, just like candidate Obama’s pledge to pass a big immigration bill during his first year in office. The Democrats controlled Congress and the Oval Office then, and he didn’t even try. Presidential inaction kept the issue alive so that Democratic operatives can gin up Latino outrage and turn out the base in an off-election year.

The spin in Washington was that Republicans would lose out by not being part of an immigration shakeup.

This summer, the politics changed as the consequences of nonenforcement came home to roost. A surge of unaccompanied minors — mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — hit the border. Many of these children were fleeing for their lives. Many also came from families who saw opportunity.

Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals offered legal status to some immigrants who came here illegally as children. A law signed by President George W. Bush also mandated that children from those nations — Central America’s Northern Triangle — be given shelter. If you make something legal, you see more of it.

Hillary Clinton quickly saw the unintended consequences of a law enacted out of the best of intentions. In June, she told CNN, “We have to send a clear message: Just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay. So we don’t want to send a message that is contrary to our laws or will encourage more children to make that dangerous journey.”

Because she’s a Democrat, Clinton can say such things without fear of being branded a racist. And that gives others permission to think likewise.

Is Obamaland slower to see consequences than Clinton? Or, as I suspect, is Team Obama simply better at teasing the issue? Spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Monday that Obama is postponing Deferred Action 2.0 because he needs more time to communicate his plans to voters.

To which a frustrated Major Garrett of CBS News responded, “If he wanted to explain it, he could explain it.”

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

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