Several weeks ago, just prior to President Obama’s second inaugural, I was interviewed by a New York Times reporter regarding immigration reform. In the course of the interview, the reporter asked me if President Obama’s reelection made immigration reform more likely. I told the Times that comprehensive immigration reform could be achieved only if the President negotiated in good faith and sought common ground for common sense reforms. I cautioned that President Obama’s actions during the campaign, namely issuing an Executive Order version of the DREAM Act, to steal Senator Marco Rubio’s thunder in Congress, may prove a harbinger of things to come. In other words, I feared the President would continue to pursue purely political ends and poison the well for any real reform to our broken immigration system.
My warning is becoming reality. It now appears evident that the issue of immigration is of such political importance to the President and his party that he is jeopardizing real reform right out of the starting gate.
On Monday, a bi-partisan group of Senators – including conservatives like Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake – outlined a series of principles they would like to see included in comprehensive immigration reform legislation. These common sense ideas included securing our borders, while providing a pathway to citizenship if an undocumented immigrant learns English, studies American civics, pays a fine and goes through the citizenship process. These steps would be supplemented by an expanded guest worker program and a streamlined visa process. All-in-all, these principles are a comprehensive approach to a complex problem. Many observers reasonably expected that the President would be pleased with such proposals, given that he claims to be interested in achieving comprehensive immigration reform.
After his speech yesterday, however, I am convinced that the President is less interested in truly solving the complex issue of immigration policy than profiting from the issue politically. For him, it is far too precious a political tool to give up in the name of real, bi-partisan reform. This was self-evident with the President’s threat to the same Congress that beat him to the punch on immigration reform proposals, while proposing measures that will jeopardize the Senate proposal from the outset. Continuing with the Obama Administration’s attempts to “bundle” their liberal priorities in seemingly unrelated legislative packages, the President proposed extending spousal legal status to gay and lesbian couples and de-coupling the legalization of currently undocumented workers from border security. Both proposals, though presented as reasonable and benign, have the potential to smother real immigration reform in its cradle.
By decoupling legalization from border security the President has tried to “one-up” Congress, Republicans like Marco Rubio in particular, all in the name of political gain. The President is attempting to position himself as the champion of immigration, while using the lack of action in Congress he will have created to help Democrats retake the House in 2014. If he persists in separating border security from the legalization process, the President will all but assure defeat for comprehensive immigration reform, while telling everyone how much he wants the measure to pass. From the outset, the President is not negotiating in good faith, and is proving that his real priority is winning the political battle, the country be damned.
America needs comprehensive immigration reform like Senator Marco Rubio has proposed, which provides a pathway to citizenship to undocumented immigrants currently in the country, while ensuring that the border is secure going forward. We must reform our immigration system to provide stability to folks and families already in the nation, while ensuring that the ongoing process of illegal immigration is ended and that American values are upheld. All of this is possible, thanks to the courageous leadership of conservatives like Marco Rubio, but only if the President stops playing politics. If he continues on his current course, he will kill immigration reform, blame it on the GOP Congress and seek to gain from it politically.
The President is poisoning the well, all in the name of politics, at the expense of America’s national unity, legacy as a nation of immigrants and at the rule of law.