May 23, 2011
But what can Obama do to advance this reform? Some would say not much, given a Republican-controlled
Is Obama's just covering himself? Making all the necessary talking points about "putting politics aside" and lamenting the pain of people "just trying to get by" so he can later claim, "I tried"?
If so, I don't entirely fault him for it. Truth is, the Hispanic Congressional Caucus has been chewing Obama's backside for months, reminding him that as a presidential candidate he promised a pathway to legal status and full U.S. citizenship for those among the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants who can prove themselves worthy. But caucus members are saving face, too. Later, they can say to their constituents, "We tried."
As anyone paying attention to politics knows, the illegal-immigrant issue has been demagogued to the point of caricature. If you're an elected official and you say anything the least pragmatic about the issue -- much less show any compassion -- your words can and will be used against you in the next election. Especially in a primary if you're a moderate Republican.
One promising sign is that the administration has begun calling conservatives' bluff on the fallacy that the "border must be secured first" before other reforms can be crafted. In
And yet, he predicted, Republicans will probably "move the goalposts."
"Maybe they'll say we need a moat," he quipped. "Or alligators in the moat."
Yet we'll know the day this administration or any in the future is serious about immigration reform when it unequivocally speaks the truth: Powerful interests in this country demand low-wage labor to do jobs Americans won't submit to. Those interests include agribusiness and meat processors and the like, but they also include U.S. consumers -- you and me. Yes, "those people" who have crossed our borders illegally are helping keep our cost of living low. You don't need to employ an illegal landscaper or nanny to reap the benefits.
If we as a nation want to keep those costs low and also want to see our laws respected, we need comprehensive immigration reform. That means new policies to allow legal entry to guest workers, and a path to citizenship for many qualified illegal immigrants already here.
Border crossings are down, as the U.S. economy has slowed. But people are still paying thousands of dollars to be smuggled, to risk being raped, robbed, left to die in the desert, or having their family blackmailed for even more money by the sort of folks who handle this service, increasingly drug dealers.
If there really were a functioning way for such a worker to arrive legally, wouldn't they take that route instead? Of course they would. No such route exists for many low-wage workers. We have a bureaucratic system, massively backlogged, that meets neither humanitarian needs of immigrants nor the country's economic and security needs for low- or highly skilled labor.
Americans also need to understand that we cannot deport our way out of this mess.
Yes, and it would be very easy for Obama to keep tossing rhetorical platitudes in both directions with talk of "a nation of laws" and "that first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty."
Or he can set aside the flourishes and lead firmly, changing the policies and priorities within his administration.
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