(USA TODAY)- Everywhere you turn, President Obama is getting beaten up over immigration.
You saw it this week outside the White House, when undocumented immigrants picketed to demand Obama listen to their views as he finalizes a highly anticipated overhaul of the nation's deportation system.
You saw it on the Senate floor, when Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said that the upcoming overhaul would become "a permanent stain on your presidency" that will undermine "the constitutional structure of our public."
You saw it along the Rio Grande, where Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., toured the border and blamed a recent surge of children entering the United States on Obama's lax immigration policies. And you saw it outside the House of Representatives, where Democratic members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said Obama needed to do more to protect those kids.
I've been covering immigration throughout Obama's presidency and can say that assessing his legacy on the issue remains incredibly difficult. Five years into his tenure. I still receive angry calls and e-mails each day from immigration activists and hard-liners alike. One day, someone's telling me he's been too soft on the nation's 12 million undocumented immigrants. The next, someone calls him the "deporter in chief." But when the White House finally announces its plans to unilaterally change the way the country treats undocumented immigrants, a decision that could involve minor tweaks to the deportation process or massive changes that allow millions of them to live and work here legally, the president's immigration legacy will finally be set.
House Republicans have shut down any chance of passing a sweeping immigration bill, so legacy-defining legislation like his Affordable Care Act seems unlikely. Some will say that represents an unfulfilled campaign promise, others will say it's another example of recalcitrant House Republicans unwilling to give him any victory. Either way, Obama will likely join every president since Ronald Reagan in being unable to overhaul the nation's immigration laws.
His enforcement record is mixed. On the one hand, his administration has bragged about setting a new record each year for the number of people it deports. He has added more than 3,000 Border Patrol agents along the Southwest border. And he has expanded the use of Secure Communities -- a program that helps local police check out people they've arrested for immigration violations and is despised by immigration advocates -- to all 3,081 counties in the U.S.
But his administration has also drastically reduced the number of people deported from the interior of the country. His Department of Homeland Security has refocused its deportation efforts to only certain segments of the undocumented population. And his administration has formally protected from deportation more than 640,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, and those who are immediate relatives of military members. Congress may break for its August recess this week without giving Obama the money he's looking for to deal with the current crisis along the border.
That's why his new deportation policy, expected to be announced by the end of the summer, could finally provide a clear definition of Obama's immigration record.
Opponents and critics feel he's going to protect at least some portion of the undocumented population, and that, they say, will be his legacy.
"If he does that, he saved millions of people from deportation," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which supports those efforts. "That is a legacy snatched from the Republicans."
Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group that opposes those efforts, agrees. But, of course, for a different reason.
"If he does that, his legacy is going to be as the person who pushed presidential power too far," Beck said. "And I think immigration, rather than the health care act, will be the thing that seals it."
And that's as close as you can come to agreement in the fraught world of immigration.