Is Obama’s call for immigration reform really helpful?

President Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden and others, urges Congress to take up comprehensive immigration reform in a speech Thursday at the White House.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

After months of being relegated to the back of the legislative line, immigration reform is back in the spotlight. On Thursday, President Obama gave a speech urging the Republican-led House to move quickly to fix the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system.

But is Obama’s speech likely to help or hurt such efforts in the House? According to some GOP conservatives and tea party members, the more the president talks about the need to overhaul the immigration system, the dimmer the chances a compromise bill will be passed in the House.

Why? The logic goes something like this: Anything that Obama says about immigration reform only deepens partisan divisions in the House. Moreover, his speech was little more than an effort to steal the spotlight from moderate Republicans who are working hard to find a way forward.


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Frankly, such arguments are specious. If Republicans want to keep public attention on them and their efforts to deal with immigration, they ought to do something to attract that attention. But until now, the House GOP has take a piece-by-piece approach that avoids tackling the most challenging problems, including what to do about those immigrants who are in the United States illegally.

Moreover, the president is supporting many of the same types of policies that his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, advocated during his two terms in office, and that are included in the bipartisan Senate bill passed this year.

In fact, during his presidency, Bush set out some of the same priorities on immigration as Obama, including a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants illegally in the U.S., tougher enforcement in the workplace and added investment in border security.

The real issue isn’t whether Obama’s remarks undermine any negotiations taking place among House Republicans. Those talks would be difficult whether the president gave a speech or remained silent on immigration. I think the real question is whether moderate Republicans, who worry about the future of the party and have seen polls that indicate the GOP brand was damaged during the recent government shutdown, will be able to convince their colleagues that doing nothing is bad politics, and bad for the economy.



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