President Barack Obama’s inability to overhaul the nation’s immigration system will stand as the most glaring failure in his effort to enact a vision of social change. Despite two campaigns full of promises and multiple strategies, he imposed only incremental, largely temporary modifications.
When his presidency ends in January, Obama will leave behind an outdated and overwhelmed system, with some 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally.
The missed goal is part of a legacy that included a sometimes contradictory mix of policies — some aimed at bringing immigrants “out of the shadows,” others at removing them from the U.S.
Obama will be remembered for protecting 730,000 young people, a generation of so-called Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. as children. Advocates and allies will credit him with embracing a newly aggressive assertion of executive power that, despite last week’s Supreme Court deadlock and political opposition, remains a legal pathway for the next president. And he will go down as a leader who consistently defended the importance of immigrants in American life, as anti-immigrant sentiment swelled up in parts of the U.S. and abroad.