Immigration emerges as an issue for Obama
It's still 'economy first,' but advocacy groups and lawmakers are positioning themselves to take on this political hot button.
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Response to Thursday's report gives lawmakers an early look at how tough the battle to change the nation's immigration laws this year will be.Skip to next paragraph
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Immigration reformers weigh in
"I expect there is going to be some significant pushback in Congress and from proactive enforcement groups – and more important, behind-the-scenes pushback form Democratic members of Congress calling the White House," says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which promotes less immigration. "The president is being put under a lot of pressure by some very demanding and, in our view, extremist constituents of his base."
The issue of border security helped sink immigration reform in 2007. Opponents say that the Obama administration will have even more difficulty convincing the public that it is serious about security – and visits of administration officials to the border won't do it.
"The Bush administration tried to restore credibility by making progress on REAL ID and worksite enforcement. But all those things are actually being stopped now," says Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which favors increased border security and less immigration.
The failure of the Obama administration to require that employers use E-verify – a Web-based government program to confirm that workers are legal – in the $787 billion stimulus program could mean that up to 300,000 of those jobs go to illegal immigrants, he says. "Those are not the kind of policy decisions that help you build the case that you are thinking about hard-working American families. In the end, the administration is going to have its hands full attempting to deal with an issue of this kind in extraordinary economic times."
Heavy lifting ahead for lawmakers
Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill say that immigration reform this year will be a heavy lift and that reform has no chance unless the president fully engages on the issue.
"Today's confirmation from a White House official that President Obama will begin addressing our flawed immigration system this year is right on track with his commitment to immigration reform and his willingness to take on our country's toughest challenges," said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D) of California, the House deputy Democratic leader. "I am confident that with his leadership, we will finally be able to make progress on smart immigration reform that reflects our values as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws."
At the same time, Democrats are revamping their case for immigration reform around the issue of the economy.
"Our top priority in Congress is to get this economy back on track. We are working hard to make progress there, and more will be done," said a Democratic leadership aide, speaking on background. "A key component of economic recovery is restoring fairness in our labor markets, and immigration reform is part of that effort.
But the aide adds: "It's a very difficult thing to do this year. We'll just see if the president gets behind it and if there can be some action in the Senate."
At the least, the renewed immigration debate sends a message that the White House has not forgotten the issue in the urgency of economic news.
"Clearly, the Latino groups have been trying very hard to get this issue moved up on the agenda, and the concession the administration has been giving them is favorable mention," says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.