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Obama plays politics on immigration

Harry Reid Dick DurbChuck Schumer

Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer

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Updated: March 2, 2013 12:04PM

For anyone hoping for a reasonable solution to the nation’s vexing problem with illegal immigration, the good news is that a bipartisan group of senators is building a road to compromise. The bad news is that President Barack Obama couldn’t resist throwing a little oil on the road that could cause the senators’ good work to skid into an ugly wreck, once again killing hopes for reform.

Immigration overhaul involves a number of difficult issues, the toughest being border enforcement to stem future illegal immigration, a high priority for conservatives, and a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now in the country, a top priority for liberals. The Senate’s Group of Eight, ranging from liberal Dick Durbin of Illinois to conservative Marco Rubio of Florida, reasonably propose linking the two.

The senators’ framework for reform — no legislation has been written yet — would grant the foreigners unlawfully in the country legal status so they could work but hold off on letting them advance to citizenship until the borders are considered to be secured.

Determining how to arrive at that conclusion is going to be hard enough. But while generally praising the senators’ work, Obama in a speech made, as the New York Times editorial page put it, “the citizenship path a central part of his plan and did not make it contingent” on new border security measures. That no doubt heartened his liberal base, like the Times, but didn’t advance the cause of compromise.

Consider the contrast provided by Rubio. He went right to the Republican conservative base by appearing on shows such as Rush Limbaugh’s influential talk radio program to push the notion of compromise. Limbaugh, a hard-liner against anything that smacks of amnesty, came away from the encounter saying that “maybe we should do this.”

Rubio demonstrated leadership. But Obama played partisan politics, reaffirming suspicions among Republicans that he is more interested in keeping immigration as a political issue than seeking a compromise solution. A very liberal senator in the Group of Eight, Chuck Schumer of New York, says Democrats don’t want this as a “wedge issue.” Maybe he should say that to Obama.

The president’s speech the day after the bipartisan group announced its framework also proposed treating same-sex relationships as other families on immigration issues. That also struck social conservatives as a poison pill to kill reform. If that is Obama’s intention, conservative Republicans would be foolish to fall into that trap. Such a provision would affect a small number of people and shouldn’t be allowed to derail overhaul of a broken system.

I understand anger over rewarding people who break the law. I understand conservative and union worry that illegal immigration undermines wages for Americans. I understand GOP fears that many immigrants seem to be inclined to the idea that government should play a large role in our lives, meaning that many — but not all of them — are likely Democratic votes. I understand the failure of the last immigration reform that granted amnesty and paved the way for today’s problem.

Still, 11 million people are here, and the humane country that is America will not tolerate mass deportation. It’s time to solve this issue through a reconciliation of liberal and conservative positions. If Obama wants to block compromise with a hard-line, partisan opposition to a link between border security and citizenship, then let him shoulder the responsibility for failure of reform.

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