Immigration Reform Might Finally See the Light of Day

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Roughly speaking—very roughly—my guess is that Republicans will eventually come to an agreement on the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling. The election is still recent; pressure is high to do something; and the PR cost of obstruction is overwhelming. After that, however, it’s going to be all-obstruction-all-the-time, just like the past four years.

The only big exception, I think, is immigration reform, where the GOP’s sense of raw self-preservation might force them into some kind of compromise on a comprehensive immigration bill. This is no sure thing, mind you: there are plenty of Republicans in the Senate who have been in favor of an immigration compromise for a long time, but the 2006 deal on immigration wasn’t derailed in the Senate. It was derailed in the House, and it’s not clear if attitudes have softened there noticeably. Still, election results have a bracing effect, and November’s results could hardly have been clearer that Republicans are doomed if they continue to receive only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. Ron Brownstein notes today that there have already been a couple of new Republican proposals in just the past week:

Even if the proposals aren’t perfect and even if they don’t move forward, they indicate that Republicans are slowly recognizing that something must be done, and that more is needed than merely tighter border controls and harsher treatment of illegal immigrants.

….The president must be far more involved than he was during his first term, when he offered flowery rhetoric and little else. He should present a road map for reform that not only calls for enforcing immigration laws at the border and in the workplace, but also provides a realistic plan for dealing with those undocumented immigrants who are already in the country. Obama should also push for a guest-worker program that ensures growers a reliable source of workers while protecting the rights of those foreign farm laborers. And he should back Republican efforts to modernize the visa system to ensure that foreign graduate students aren’t forced to leave the country as soon as they’re handed a diploma.

Obama has said he can’t repair the nation’s immigration system alone. It now seems Republicans may offer a much-needed hand.

Is this the right strategy? The problem, as always, is that as soon as Obama puts his name to something, it’s an immediate red flag for conservative Republicans. Obama discovered this over and over during his first term. So although he should certainly be publicly fighting for immigration reform, I suspect that when it comes to specifics he might be better off leading behind the scenes and allowing Congress to do most of the fighting. After all, the tea party may be in decline, but it’s not gone yet, and immigration reform will only succeed if, somehow, Republicans think they’re going to get some credit for it. A low profile on specific proposals might be the best way to get there.

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