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Obama’s Pledge on Immigration Reform - Why Now?

by Frank Sharry on 04/09/2009 at 2:26pm

Obama now

Cross-posted on Huffington Post

Today’s front-page New York Times article is further evidence that the Obama White House is committed to upholding its campaign pledge to move forward on sensible solutions to our immigration crisis in year one of the new Administration. The article has many asking, why now?

Julia Preston reports:

While acknowledging that the recession makes the political battle more difficult, President Obama plans to begin addressing the country’s immigration system this year, including looking for a path for illegal immigrants to become legal, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

Though the political battle is a foregone conclusion, this White House has consistently shown that it can tap American public sentiment with greater honesty, integrity, and skill than the punditry.  The Obama Administration gets that a failure to solve the problem of illegal immigration has become a symbol of how Washington ducks when it comes to solving tough problems. 

Today’s news is not the first time the conventional wisdom regarding the prospects of immigration reform has been turned on its head.  Before the 2008 elections, the inside-the-Beltway belief was that Latinos would not play a critical role during the election and that immigration was not a mobilizing issue.  This myth was shattered when Latinos and other immigrants turned out in record numbers, voted to punish Republicans for their hostility and opposition to immigration reform, and turned at least four states from red to blue. 

Since the election, we have asserted that President Obama would keep his campaign promise to tackle immigration reform during his first year in office.  But critics and skeptics have argued that addressing immigration reform later this year would be impossible because of the down economy.  Again, this conventional wisdom misses the mark – not to mention the economic benefits of reform for the average American.

We all know the public voted for change.  Two-thirds of voters approve of the aggressive approach being taken by the Obama White House to the myriad of reform challenges facing the country.  In addition, the majority of Americans agree that earned citizenship, combined with smart policies that significantly reduce illegal immigration, is the American way to solve this complex challenge. They understand that our immigration system is broken, and overwhelmingly support practical efforts to fix it. 

Moreover, the version of immigration reform that is likely to be debated this year will focus primarily on cracking down on bad actor employers who violate immigration, labor, and tax laws, combined with the legalization of workers and families already contributing and living here in the United States.  This approach will lift wages for American and immigrant workers alike, enhance tax fairness and boost revenues, and create a level playing field for honest employers.  This approach is about rebuilding America together.

President Obama is rising to the occasion and demonstrating leadership on this issue that vexes the American public. It will be up to Congress to follow his lead and make it happen. 

We stand ready to work with all of our elected leaders to enact this long overdue reform this year.

The time is most certainly now. 

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