Barack Obama's immigration speech in El Paso May 10 was an exercise in electioneering and hypocrisy. Hypocrisy because while Obama complained about "politicians" blocking comprehensive immigration bills, he was one of them himself.
In 2007, when such a bill was backed by a lame duck Republican president and had bipartisan backing from Senate heavyweights Edward Kennedy and Jon Kyl, Sen. Obama voted for union-backed amendments that Kennedy and Kyl opposed as bill-killers.
In 2009 and 2010, President Obama acquiesced in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to pass cap-and-trade and bypass immigration and in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's decision not to bring an immigration bill to the floor.
Both times the votes were probably there to pass a bill. Obama did not lift a finger to help.
But that did not stop the president who is constantly calling for civility to heap scorn on those who seek stronger enforcement. "They'll want a higher fence. Maybe they'll need a moat," he said to laughter from the largely Latino audience. "Maybe they'll want alligators in the moat. They'll never be satisfied."
Was that on the teleprompter, or was it ad-libbed? In either case, Obama was showing his contempt for those who bitterly cling to the idea that the law should be enforced.
That's no way to assemble the bipartisan coalition necessary to pass an immigration bill.
It's obvious that nothing like the legalization (opponents say "amnesty") provisions considered in 2007 can pass in this Congress. They can never pass the Republican House, where Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith is a longstanding opponent and Speaker John Boehner will not schedule a bill not approved in committee.
Nor will this Congress pass the most attractive proposal Obama mentioned, the Dream Act, providing a path to legalization for those brought in illegally as children who enroll in college or serve in the military. That failed last December in a more Democratic Senate and won't pass now.
Some new approach is needed, and Obama did little to point the way. One idea, advanced by a bipartisan Brookings Institution panel, is a bill that would strengthen enforcement and would shift the U.S. away from low-skill and toward high-skill immigration.
Canada and Australia have done this to their great benefit. And with a sluggish economy it makes little sense, as current law does, to give preference to low-skill siblings of minimum wage workers rather than to engineering and science Ph.D.s. We need more job creators, not more job seekers.
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