The problem here is that the lobbying forces backing comprehensive legislation don't favor such an approach. Latino groups and lobbies representing employers of low-skill workers are interested in legalizing the low-skill Latinos who make up the majority of the 11 million illegal immigrants.
High-tech firms seek more H-1B visas for high-skill graduates, but these tie immigrants to particular employers. They don't have an interest in provisions allowing these people to work for anyone they don't like or to start their own businesses, as they can in Canada and Australia.
In the absence of significant lobbying support, the only way to provide support for Brookings-style legislation is a bold presidential initiative advertising it as a clean break from past proposals.
Obama didn't come close to doing that in El Paso. He included a few words about letting in more high-skill folks, but didn't suggest any reduction in low-skill immigration.
And he said only a few words about workplace enforcement on which his administration has developed a valuable new tool.
That's a refinement of the E-Verify electronic system now available in which employers can verify the Social Security numbers of new employees.
The Department of Homeland Security has been ironing out glitches in E-Verify and, as former National Security Agency general counsel Stewart Baker reports, DHS now allows job-seekers in some states to use E-Verify before applying for a job not only to check their status but also to protect against identity theft.
The administration has been attacking state laws requiring employers to use E-Verify. If Obama were serious about enforcement, he would be calling for mandatory E-Verify. That would be a more effective tool against illegal immigration than even the strongest border enforcement.
But as Obama's record makes clear, he's not really interested in passing a law. He knows his support has been slipping among Latino voters, and he wants to goose it back up. El Paso was all about election 2012, not serious immigration reform.
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