Last year, President Obama gave lip service to immigration in his State of the Union address. “I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration,” he said. “I know the debate will be difficult and take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort.”
Yeah, right. One year later, there has been no progress toward the comprehensive immigration legislation that Obama claims to support. The best that Congress has had to offer is a bill to rearrange how the annual allotment of green cards is doled out. (And even that noncontroversial legislation is still languishing in the Senate.)
In his speech this year, Obama is saying more or less the same thing. Reform our broken immigration system. Make border security a federal responsibility. Make illegal immigrants get right with the law before getting on a path to legalization. And for God’s sake, stop making the talented foreign college students go back to their home countries and compete with us. All worthy ideas. None with any staying power in Congress.
The White House has done a few things on its own to pacify increasingly irritated Hispanics who thought they had elected an ally in 2008. The administration is changing the green-card process so that eligible undocumented foreigners can remain in the United States when they seek waivers to get legal permanent visas. The Department of Homeland Security is directing immigration enforcement officers to prioritize criminals over pregnant women in deportations. But at the same time, the administration is bragging about the highest deportation rate ever. It sends mixed signals.
Everyone involved in immigration policy—from those who staunchly oppose legalization for illegal immigrants and those who want it more than anything—say Obama needs to move past nit-picky administrative changes and take a stand. He has nothing to lose. Anything short of a pure enforcement approach will be universally opposed by Republicans. Democrats and Hispanics, however, would be glad to see some muscle behind Obama’s insistence that he supports broad immigration changes that include legalization for illegal immigrants.