After President Obama left for a three day Florida golf vacation that included a round with Tiger Woods, the White House announced his latest immigration plan. Two weeks ago in Las Vegas, Obama threatened Congress that if it didn’t introduce legislation to grant permanent residency and eventually citizenship to 11 million illegal aliens by March, he’d launch his own.
Immediately after Obama’s announcement, coyly referred to by his public relations staff as a “back up plan,” Republicans pounced. Since there are ongoing immigration negotiations in the House and Senate, many legislators questioned Obama’s motives. They wondered out loud about why the White House would the leak an outline to the nation’s most widely read newspaper, USA Today, and risk disrupting the current talks. Senator John McCain, one of the “Gang of Eight” immigration advocates, speculated that Obama isn’t as interested in working with Congress on an achievable bill but rather gaining as many congressional Democratic seats as possible in the 2014 mid-term elections.
The summary, drafted by Obama’s aides with input from the open borders lobby and immigration lawyers, was generous on amnesty but lacking on enforcement, a key congressional provision.
Obama’s bill would create a new “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” visa, hardly what the United States needs since the State Department already issues more than 50 visas for every imaginable work or non-work category. In addition to granting permanent legal residency, the visas would also convey immediate work authorization. More than 11 million previously unemployable aliens (because of their immigration status) would become work eligible and thus further dilute an already too tight labor market for the 20 million unemployed or under-employed Americans. Those most adversely impacted would be society’s vulnerable—unemployed Hispanics and blacks.
The immigration talks have repeatedly emphasized that aliens granted permanent residency would go to “the back of the line” for citizenship. Even if this turned out to be true, it’s inconsequential to Americans trying to find a job or switch to a higher paying position. Under Obama’s vision, work authorization becomes instantly available.
Florida Senator and “Gang of Eight” member Marco Rubio predicted that if Obama’s plan reached Congress, it would be “dead on arrival.” McCain concurred.
Obama’s ill-timed announcement further gums up what is already a sticky situation. Despite the Senate’s happy talk about how smoothly the immigration talks are proceeding, the opposite is true. From the beginning, Rubio has insisted that the federal government must submit irrefutable evidence that the border is secure before the Senate will act. But no sooner did Rubio utter the words “border security” than another of his “Gang of Eight” colleagues, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, overruled him. A secure border, said Schumer, would not be one of the amnesty “triggers.”
Moreover, two groups essential to an agreement and previously rumored to be working in tandem—the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce—have sharply different opinions about guest worker programs. A February 15 deadline for an accord has passed with the two sides, according to one source involved in the talks, “not even speaking the same language.”
Historically, passing immigration reform has been rough sledding. In 2006 and 2007, bills nearly identical Obama’s failed despite early fanfare. One reason: amnesty for illegal aliens is a low priority for mainstream Americas, including Hispanics. According to a Pew Hispanic Center study, immigration ranks 17th in importance behind, among other issues, jobs, the economy, education and health care.
Even though the immigration dialogue has a long way to go, the road ahead will be rocky with an accord looking less likely every day.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1986.