Obama will push immigration reform

The New York Times says the president will prioritize the controversial issue "despite the risks," but actually, the political calculus is in his favor.

Published April 9, 2009 2:15PM (EDT)

The New York Times is reporting that, even with everything else going on, President Obama isn't putting immigration reform aside, and that he plans to make a push on the issue this year, hoping that as early as this fall Congress will be working on legislation that would, among other things, provide a path to legalization for illegal immigrants.

"In broad outlines, officials said, the Obama administration favors legislation that would bring illegal immigrants into the legal system by recognizing that they violated the law, and imposing fines and other penalties to fit the offense," the Times' Julia Preston reports. "The legislation would seek to prevent future illegal immigration by strengthening border enforcement and cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, while creating a national system for verifying the legal immigration status of new workers."

Preston also says the president plans to speak about the topic soon -- probably next month -- and that he'll be convening working groups on the issue.

The article takes an angle on the story that's a bit peculiar, focusing on potential political "risks" for Obama that might come out of this. The idea that this kind of legislation would be politically risky for the president seems to be contradicted by the history of previous reform efforts, and by the last election.

While it is true that the debate could suck the oxygen out of other administration priorities, and force them to expend precious political capital Obama's political team might prefer to use differently, he's unlikely to pay any price at the polls. Plus, he doesn't have to worry about GOP support, the way that President Bush did -- as the votes for the stimulus and the budget showed, all he needs is a couple Republican senators; he certainly doesn't need any votes from the House Republicans.

The anti-reform wave that some observers expected, and that congressional Republicans pandered to before the 2006 mid-term elections, simply never materialized. In fact, the political movement has all gone in the opposite direction. The harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric adopted by so many Republicans turned Latinos away, defeating Karl Rove's efforts to lure the demographic to the GOP, and that has seriously hurt the party. In fact, the Latino vote was responsible for Obama's victory in several key states, including -- depending upon who's counting -- Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Virginia. Given that, his political team is unlikely to mind another round of nativism from the Republican Party.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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