Obama, Congress can’t ignore politics of immigration reform

Comprehensive immigration re- form will become a reality this year, not because Democrats and Republicans in Congress have suddenly embraced bipartisanship, but because of the political ramifications of the issue.

As the November general election demonstrated, immigration is a game-changer. President Obama, whose re-election bid was hardly guaranteed, won over a large, important voting bloc when he issued an executive order that permitted some illegal immigrants to stay in the country if they can prove they came here when they were under the age of 16 and have lived in the U.S. for five consecutive years.

By permitting these individuals to remain without fear of being deported, Obama delivered a clear message to the ever-important Hispanic community that he intended to deal with issue of immigration in a fair manner.

Hispanic voters expressed their appreciation in a big way at the polls last November.

In return, the president has wasted little time pushing immigration to the top of Congress’ legislative agenda.

Just days before he unveiled his plan for fixing America’s broken system, a bipartisan group of senators came out with their version that suggested a willingness on the part of key legislators to give the issue the serious consideration it deserves.

The fact that leading Republicans on Capitol Hill are involved means the GOP is reassessing its election strategy. In the 2010 midterm election in which the Republicans took control of the House and won numerous gubernatorial and legislative races, the word “amnesty” with regard to immigration became a rallying cry.

It was used in reference to the Dream Act, which sought to give conditional permanent residency status to certain illegals. The legislation was first proposed in 2001 and since then there have been different versions. The 2010 measure passed the House but failed in the Senate.

However, with Obama’s stunning re-election victory in November, Republicans have realized that their intransigence carries a high political price. Alienating a huge voting bloc is a recipe for failure.

That’s why immigration reform will occur. The president and members of Congress aren’t that far apart in what they want to accomplish. It’s just a matter of taking the first steps.

The goal is to get the 12 million illegal immigrants in this country out of the shadows, as Obama has said. Thoughtful people say that deportation is too ridiculous to take seriously.

Americans believe that reform is long overdue, but they also insist that those who have lived here illegally should have to earn their citizenship.

The president agrees, and has laid out the following requirements: pass national security and background criminal background checks; pay taxes and a penalty; go to the back of the line; and, learn English before earning citizenship.

Border patrol agents

Like the members of Congress, Obama believes that border security must be strengthened, but he also points out the number of border patrol agents have been doubled since he took office in 2009, and that security is stronger than it has ever been.

But some Republicans in Congress are insisting that nothing else on immigration can be done until border security is complete.

That could be a deal-breaker as far as the White House is concerned. It’s an unreasonable position for the Republicans to take when immigration reform is finally within sight.

After all the years of talking about this issue, there is no reason why all the goals cannot be reached at the same time.

The next election is just around the corner. That should be incentive enough to get going on this important issue.

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