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Reason Foundation

Is Obama Serious About Immigration Reform?

His speech this week suggests that he's not.

David Harsanyi
May 11, 2011

Immigration reform, huh? Well, President Obama did recently consult with Eva Longoria on this formidable policy conundrum. As goes Longoria, so goes the nation.

Then again, it certainly seems like a peculiar time to spring this divisive topic on the American people. Especially when we know full well that reform has a stimulus's chance of success.

And weren't we just talking about the $14 trillion debt? The budget you didn't pass? Thuggery against Boeing? Debt ceilings? Medicare? According to a new NBC News poll, 58 percent of Americans disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy—an all-time high. So perhaps the discussion wasn't helpful to the most vital imperative: electing Obama.

Remember that Obama promised to fight for reform legislation in his first year in office. Instead, Democrats used historic supremacy to cram through a number of legislative items that divided the nation—but no immigration policy. Latinos are imperative to presidents when running for office, less so when in it. Now, in the middle of the most consequential fiscal debate the nation has faced in memory, the administration shifts to immigration reform? We can guess why.

Other than a superb distraction for average Americans, the debate doubtlessly ignites passion on the left. Immigration reform is also a useful cluster bomb to drop within a shaky right-center alliance cracking with libertarian-traditional-business splits on the matter. The right tends to turn on itself whenever immigration is at issue. At the Mexican border this week, Obama made sure to mention the support of Mel Martinez, Michael Chertoff, Michael Bloomberg, and Rupert Murdoch. "He doesn't have an Obama sticker on his car," the president explained (speaking for others has become his routine), "but he agrees with me on this."

So what? A lot of us agree with you in principle. The timing and intent of the discussion, however, are what should make it irrelevant.

Tangentially, an immigration discussion also opens a door for the administration to, once again, tacitly accuse opponents of being racist swine. An administration official explained to ABC News, presumably without laughing, that the president was only attempting to elevate the debate. The same president who later went on to claim that Republicans may "need a moat, maybe they'll need alligators" to be satisfied on the border.

It is difficult to dispute the assertion that some Republicans may favor alligators and moats. Maybe some Democrats would, as well. According to numerous polls, Democrats favor tougher border enforcement in large numbers. But imagine if former President Bush bragged, as Obama did this week, about how he was responsible for larger levels of deportations and more boots on the ground at the border than any other administration in history?

"One way to strengthen the middle class in America is to reform the immigration system," Obama went on to claim, "so that there is no longer a massive underground economy that exploits a cheap source of labor while depressing wages for everybody else."

Does illegal immigration depress wages? Arguable. There are those of us who believe that increased immigration creates increased wealth and raises the average wages of all Americans. If you don't subscribe to that view, and most do not, how is a pathway to citizenship for millions more going to help anyone—other than the unions Obama envisions these immigrants joining?

According to a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll, immigration policy is only a midlevel concern of voters. In another poll by Pew, 42 percent (the highest number) say the nation's priority should be to tighten border security (nothing on alligators), strictly enforce immigration laws and create a way for people here illegally to become citizens.

So there is room for some common ground. But Republicans would be nuts to engage in any good-faith effort on the matter until there is some closure on entitlement reform and spending cuts.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Blaze. Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.

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