Obama speech on immigration reform: The gaps are as wide as the border

The Obama speech on immigration reform has three conflicts that he will need to resolve if he wants a reform bill this year.

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    US Border Patrol agent patrols the border between US and Mexico in San Ysidro, California.
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Anyone who has ever hired an illegal immigrant, if only to cut a lawn, knows the conflicted emotions: Yes, you feel guilty for paying people who have violated the law but, hey, they’re low-wage workers just earning a living in the land of opportunity.

Conflicts abound in the American angst over illegal immigration. And some of the thorniest ones were all too apparent in President Obama’s big speech on immigration Thursday.

Mr. Obama says the Southwest border has never been so secure in preventing illegal crossings, citing the beefed-up federal enforcement on his watch. Yet he implies a false hope among those who want the 2,000-mile border sealed up – as sealed as the White House perimeter is.

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“Our borders are just too vast for us to be able to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols. It won’t work,” he said.

So why is he even trying? Just one big gap along the border with Mexico can be an opening for millions to cross (just asked the folks in Arizona). If the task is so futile, you would think Obama would rather spend the money on something else, which may be the case.

He can’t take pride in his efforts to secure the border while also knocking the very idea. This only undercuts his ability to lead Congress toward resolving the issue of what to do with some 11 million law-breaking immigrants in the US.

A second big conflict is this: He warns against the task of deporting immigrants because of the huge costs and because “it would tear at the very fabric of this nation.” Both reasons are accurate. But then he boasts of his administration’s efforts to force employers to get rid of their illegal workers. Wouldn’t that leave them and their families destitute, also tearing up society?

And one final conflict:

Obama wants illegal immigrants to “get right with the law” by coming out of the shadows and registering, paying a fine, learning English, and paying taxes. But he doesn’t explicitly say whether they should pay past taxes, which would be fair. Nor does he hint at the size of the fine for their illegal act, which is crucial to deterring further illegal immigration.

And then he says they must “get in line” but one to earn US citizenship, not a line to be admitted into the US legally – a line that has plenty of people waiting in other countries.

To have an immigration-reform bill passed this year, as he hopes, the president needs to first clear up the conflicts in his own ideas. Like many Americans who have hired illegal workers, it won’t be easy.

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