January 5, 2013
President Barack Obama said all the right things last week about immigration reform. The president told NBC's Meet the Press that he is serious about getting Congress to overhaul the laws governing immigrants. He even declared that he will introduce an immigration bill this year.
The president's words to NBC's David Gregory are only that -- words. What will really matter is whether he puts his muscle into the task this year.
We suggest that Obama start by looking at the example of former President George W. Bush. Back in 2006 and 2007, the Republican and his administration constantly worked Capitol Hill to pass a comprehensive plan. They failed, largely because Senate Republicans balked. But the opposition didn't stop the Bush White House from fully engaging Congress, including recalcitrant Republicans.
Obama might have a similar problem with his own party. The dirty little secret in the 2006 and 2007 immigration battles was that some Democrats were content to let Senate Republicans kill the effort. Labor-friendly Democrats didn't want a bill, either.
And they might not want one this year. That reluctance is a major reason the president needs to invest in this fight. He must figure out how to bring enough Democrats along, while also reaching out to Republicans.
In short, the nation doesn't need a repeat of the process through which the 2010 health care legislation was passed. Very few Republicans bought into the president's plan, leaving the Affordable Care Act open to partisan sniping throughout last year's election. If the nation is going to create a saner immigration system, both parties need to support substantial parts of an answer.
The new system must include a guest worker program for future immigrants and a way for illegal immigrants already living here to legalize their status over time. Some House Republicans will object to one or both of those reforms, so Speaker John Boehner must be persuasive about the need for a wholesale change.
But the leadership that matters most will come from the White House. The president has staked out the right position. Now he needs to present a bill and fight this year for a comprehensive solution. Nothing but action will count.
The Dallas Morning News