How Obama's Mexico Trip Sends a Message Back Home on Immigration, Too

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President Obama's three-day trip through Central America, which began in Mexico Thursday, emphasizes economic and security concerns. But it also has a deep echo in the US immigration reform debate.

Elected with an overwhelming share of the US Hispanic vote, Mr. Obama has been hemmed in on how hard he can push the immigration issue by the delicate politics of immigration on Capitol Hill, which could make or break the 2014 midterm elections.

But when he meets with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto or with central American leaders in Costa Rica over the weekend, he will be able to subtly embrace the many American Latinos who will be watching closely.

The president can simultaneously score foreign policy points by emphasizing the US relationship with Central American nations and strike a chord with audiences back home, said Carl Meacham, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, at a forum earlier this week.

The trip offers "a lot of visual symbolism that he's meeting with these different presidents as equals," said Mr. Meachem, who served as a foreign policy staffer to former Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana for many years. "That also sends a pretty strong signal" to Hispanic voters back home.

Moreover, watching a president who twice trounced GOP challengers among Hispanic voters pile up good press in Spanish-language US media could put pressure on a Republican Party that's cautiously weighing how to proceed on immigration reform, he adds.

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"He's doing the right things to keep on promoting this," said Meachem. "He's putting a lot of pressure on the GOP to get its act together on this issue, and this is just tightening the screws a little bit more to make them make a decision."

How will the president drive home his point over the three-day trip? First, he will highlight the relationships that bind the US to its southern neighbors in speeches and interviews to help accentuate the personal, familial aspects of the immigration issue.

"Hispanic Americans are a growing portion of the population in the United States, they contribute in many ways to" American society, said Ben Rhodes, a White House national security spokesman, on a call with reporters before the trip. "They have family ties in Mexico and Central America and so I think the president will speak to those familial bonds that extend [back to the US] and the context for immigration reform. …