A Hard Line on Immigration Reform (Amnesty) Lurks in Obama's Inaugural Speech
President Obama’s second inaugural address was heavy on the theme of unity. He used the word “together” seven times in the 15-minute speech. But tucked inside was a prelude to a contentious fight he’ll soon have with Republicans—the battle over reforming the nation’s immigration laws.
Obama couched his comments about the issue in uplifting language: “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” he said. “Until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce, rather than expelled from our country.”
By Elizabeth Dwoskin on January 21, 2013
On the surface, there’s nothing controversial about that. Increasing the number of visas for highly-skilled immigrants is one of the few policy goals Obama and the GOP agree on. That reflects a big change in Republican thinking in recent months, as party leaders saw support among Hispanics drop in the face of tough anti-immigrant rhetoric. When Mitt Romney talked about immigrants during the Republican primaries, he focused on undocumented workers, suggesting they should “self-deport.” By the summer, he had softened his tone, saying he wanted to “staple a green card to the diplomas” of all foreign math and science grads who study at U.S. universities.
If visas for highly -skilled workers were the only issue on the table, Democrats and Republicans could solve it fairly quickly. The GOP would need a little time to convince the staunchest conservatives to sign on. Democrats would have to win over unions, but that might not be too difficult because most science and engineering grads work in fields with few union jobs, anyway.
But that’s not the way it’s going to happen. What Obama didn’t say in his speech, and the thing Republicans will latch onto in the days ahead, is that he wants to tie the popular idea of raising visas for skilled workers to making broader changes in immigration laws—to which that Republicans strongly object.
Last week, administration officials—speaking anonymously, of course—”leaked” to reporters some of the details of Obama’s immigration plan. For the first time, the White House made clear that the president won’t agree to raise the visa caps for highly skilled immigrants unless it’s part of an overall reform plan that includes a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S.
These immigrants aren’t the “bright young” future job-creators Obama lauded in his speech. Most work dirty jobs for low wages, and many lack high-school diplomas. They’re the undocumented workers that Republican governors in Arizona, Georgia, Alabama, and other states have driven away with tough anti-immigration laws.
Obama’s insistence on an everything-at-once approach puts Republicans in a difficult position as the party struggles to settle on a policy that its different factions can rally around. For many House Republicans from Southern and border states, such words as “legalization” and “citizenship” are non-starters. But increasingly, party leaders and other prominent conservatives—House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Charlie Spies, counsel for the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC, even Bill O’Reilly–are advocating for a compromise—yet to be defined—between “throw them out” and “let them stay.”
This means that skilled would-be immigrants hoping for the door to open could be in for a long wait. They’ve become the essential bargaining chip in what will likely be a tense, protracted negotiation—not just between Democrats and Republicans, but among Republicans themselves.This article was originally published in forum thread: A Hard Line on Immigration Reform Lurks in Obama's Inaugural Speech started by Jean View original post