Obama's Next Big Political Battle: Immigration Reform

[media id=7811] Pat Buchanan is promising a "bloodbath." Brad Blakeman is vowing that Republicans will line up against it en masse. But according to

Pat Buchanan is promising a "bloodbath." Brad Blakeman is vowing that Republicans will line up against it en masse. But according to the New York Times, President Obama is planning to push for comprehensive immigration reform this year anyway:

Mr. Obama will frame the new effort — likely to rouse passions on all sides of the highly divisive issue — as “policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system,” said the official, Cecilia Muñoz, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs in the White House.

Mr. Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall.

Some White House officials said that immigration would not take precedence over the health care and energy proposals that Mr. Obama has identified as priorities. But the timetable is consistent with pledges Mr. Obama made to Hispanic groups in last year’s campaign.

He said then that comprehensive immigration legislation, including a plan to make legal status possible for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, would be a priority in his first year in office. Latino voters turned out strongly for Mr. Obama in the election.

The legislation that Obama favors, in fact, sounds pretty familiar:

In broad outlines, officials said, the Obama administration favors legislation that would bring illegal immigrants into the legal system by recognizing that they violated the law, and imposing fines and other penalties to fit the offense. The legislation would seek to prevent future illegal immigration by strengthening border enforcement and cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, while creating a national system for verifying the legal immigration status of new workers.

If this sounds an awful lot like the immigration-reform legislation, promoted by then-President Bush, that died in 2007 because Rush Limbaugh's flying monkeys descended upon it, that's because largely it is. In other words, it's not very different from what a Republican President recently proffered -- but which died at the hands of the rabid nativist wing of his party.

So there was Pitchfork Pat today on MSNBC's Morning Joe:

They will face a bloodbath if he tries try to legalize 12 million illegal aliens when the unemployment rate is rising, and it is huge among working-class Americans.

Republican strategist Brad Blakeman came on MSNBC today to discuss it, and said Republicans will line up against it because: "It's just bad policy." One wonders if he thought so back in 2007.

He went on to suggest that John McCain, who's championed this kind of legislation for many years, may be the lone Republican this time out:

Blakeman: John McCain is not going to be able to push this legislation through, because the Republicans are going to rally and unite, as well as I believe independents -- and blue-collar Democrats. Their jobs are going to be threatened.

And Nora, I'll make a prediction: We're going to be in double-digit unemployment in this country in the summer. The President claims to unveil this plan and have it done in the first year. Well, that's going to be awful hard to do when millions of Americans are out of work, and inflation is creeping up, and our economy isn't doing well. And he is now going to legalize 12 million illegal aliens and give them the rights that workers in this country should be having? It isn't going to work.

Well, at least the argument this time out is about employment and not about "Reconquista" or leprosy or crime -- which means there can be a reasonable debate. But Blakeman's argument runs aground on a very simple reality: it is immigrants' illegal status that undermines Americans' working wages.

Employers are able to get away with paying lower wages when they have workers who live under threat of deportation. Ending that situation, and helping these immigrants obtain the ordinary rights of citizenship, will actually play a key role in America's economic recovery. Because, as Time's Nathan Thornburgh noted a couple of years ago, immigration holds the key to the future economic competitiveness of the United States: "For all the stresses of immigration, it is the only industrialized nation with a population that is growing fast enough and skews young enough to provide the kind of workforce that a dynamic economy needs."

It's a classic rising-tide-lifts-all-boats scenario: By helping the immigrants already here find a path to citizenship -- which in turn makes them less vulnerable to the exploitation that hurts everyone except the exploiters -- while making the system of immigration built on rational economic needs instead of xenophobic ethnic fears, Americans will be helping themselves, too.

As Frank Sharry at America's Voice observed:

Moreover, the version of immigration reform that is likely to be debated this year will focus primarily on cracking down on bad actor employers who violate immigration, labor, and tax laws, combined with the legalization of workers and families already contributing and living here in the United States. This approach will lift wages for American and immigrant workers alike, enhance tax fairness and boost revenues, and create a level playing field for honest employers. The majority of Americans believe that earned citizenship combined with smart policies that will significantly reduce illegal immigration is the American way to solve this complex challenge.

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