State of immigration reform still an issue
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday evening was not his most notable effort. Although the president can still offer a good speech, with a few stirring moments, this year’s edition was filled with relatively small policy proposals that failed to generate a great deal of enthusiasm, even among members of his own party.
For instance, Senate Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday he is not inclined to push ahead with Obama’s request for fast-track trade negotiation authority, which labor unions oppose.
Little of what the president discussed Tuesday night will result in major policy change, except immigration reform.
Not that Obama was very specific when he mentioned the issue. He urged Congress to “fix our broken immigration system” and offered a few facts about the contributions immigrants make to our economy, but little else.
That’s understandable, because Republicans in Congress are bitterly divided about immigration reform and they have rejected his previous ideas.
Moving immigration reform through Congress won’t be easy, but there are some encouraging signs.
House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan have both discussed immigration-reform bills. On Wednesday, Ryan said a GOP House bill would likely include measures to provide legal status to immigrants in this country illegally who meet specific requirements. But there would be no quick or guaranteed path to citizenships. That’s fine.
On a less positive note, Sen. Marco Rubio — one of the Republicans who pushed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in the Senate last year — said Wednesday that winning passage of such a bill through the full Congress may have to wait until Obama is out of the White House.
We hope that isn’t the case, that Rubio is simply engaging in some rhetoric to get the White House to be more willing to compromise on reform.
As we have argued before, reform is needed for several reasons. The first is so that illegal immigrants can come out of the shadows and become more productive, tax-paying members of society who do not have to fear deportation every day. Better border security should also be part of any reform measure.
We also hope that through reform, we will encourage the most talented people to legally immigrate here. Our immigration policy shouldn’t continue to be primarily a family affair, in which people are encouraged to immigrate because a spouse, parent or other relative immigrated some years earlier.
Immigration reform is also important to the Republican Party. If the GOP is ever to attract more members of the fastest growing demographic in the country — as it did under President George W. Bush — it must show Hispanics that it is willing to work with them on immigration reform.
We hope Obama’s State of the Union speech will help kick-start action on immigration reform.