Immigration Reform: The Campaign

by Douglas Holtz-Eakin

I think immigration reform is a really important issue. The economy desperately needs the influx of human capital ranging from low-skill to high-skill workers. Beyond measured productivity, immigration enriches the nation’s arts, literature, cuisine, theology, and in myriad other ways. 

So, what is one to think on Tuesday, when after over two years of keeping the issue well in the background (despite promising it was his top priority) President Obama stood near the Mexican border and said that the border was secure and the path to immigration reform was clear:

I want everybody to listen carefully to this.  We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement.  All the stuff they asked for, we’ve done.

Does this mean immigration reform is nigh? 

No, it means an election is nigh and the president is back to being campaigner-in-chief.  If the border was genuinely secure and he felt confident it could be demonstrated, why not actually draft a reform bill, send it to Congress, make the case for reform on the merits, and lead the nation to immigration reform? That would be leadership. Instead, the president’s capacity for self-exertion extends only far enough to assert that the border is safe and that someone else — especially Republicans — ought to do the hard work of taking care of that immigration issue.

The president is more interested in his reelection and scoring partisan political points.

Maybe we should be glad.  On Thursday, the rhetorician-in-chief fired up the teleprompters to assert:

Comprehensive reform is not only an economic imperative or a security imperative, it’s also a moral imperative.  It’s a moral imperative when kids are being denied the chance to go to college or serve their military because of the actions of their parents.  It’s a moral imperative when millions of people live in the shadows and are made vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses or with nowhere to turn if they are wronged.  It’s a moral imperative when simply enforcing the law may mean inflicting pain on families who are just trying to do the right thing by their children.

I remember the last time a “moral issue” turned into actual law (spoiler alert, we know how this ends): health-care reform.

— Douglas Holtz-Eakin (@DJHEakin) is president of the American Action Forum.

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