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Obama’s Immigration Speech

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Speaking in Las Vegas, President Obama revealed his intention to pursue comprehensive immigration reform during his second term. He outlined a rough sketch of a plan that would involve an increase in border security and enforcement of employment laws but that would also create a path to legal status or citizenship for undocumented immigrants and streamline the existing immigration system. The outline provided by the White House provides a lot of nice-sounding bullet points, but is light on specifics.

Obama wants to strengthen border security, combat transnational crime and crack down on passport and visa fraud–has he not been doing this? Already, some politicians resistant to immigration reform are suggesting that reform can only come after the borders are sufficiently strengthened. But it seems obvious at this point that our borders are secure as they can be and by offering this security “olive branch” to his opposition, has Obama in some sense opened his plan to attack?

However, his speech wasn’t devoid of meaningful content, he does propose the good, common sense reform that is needed in our laws This includes measures to begin moving undocumented immigrants currently here to a legal status, allowing “DREAMers” to a path to citizenship and some additional technical/administrative reforms to help streamline the existing system. Although some people have a visceral reaction against “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, Obama isn’t suggesting that these 11 million people will automatically become legal citizens; rather, he’s proposing a system that will gradually allow undocumented people to become legal residents (not citizens) and only after they have paid taxes, fees and “gone to the back of the line”. Of course, the devil is in the details with these reforms and until either the President or Congress offers up an actual bill, it’s pointless to speculate on what the outcome of this reform would be.

My reaction to Obama’s announcement is one of cautious optimism. He’s forcing the issue of immigration reform and some of his ideas appear to make sense. But we have to stand back and watch what emerges in the form of an actual bill before we can begin to judge if this will ultimately be a step in the right direction.