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Pres. Obama Challenges GOP to Help on Immigration Reform – Then Rewards Those Who Are Blocking It

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McCain and Kyl Get $500 Million in Border Security Funds and 1,200 National Guard Troops; These Former Champions of Comprehensive Reform Give President Nothing in Return

Washington, DC — Earlier today President Obama spoke with Republican Senators about the need for comprehensive immigration reform.  It then became known that he is calling for an additional $500 million in border funding and the deployment of up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border.  The following is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice in response to today’s developments.

President Obama went into the Lion’s Den today and challenged Republicans to work with him on comprehensive immigration reform.  So far, so good.  But he left the Lion’s Den having given into the key GOP demand of “border security first” without getting anything in return. Say what? 

Talk about one step forward and two steps back.

President Obama no doubt was eloquent in making his case for comprehensive immigration reform.  He gets it.  He is right when he says the only realistic solution to illegal immigration is a comprehensive overhaul that augments border security measures with a crackdown on illegal hiring that turns off the jobs magnet, a requirement that those in the U.S. illegally come forward and meet certain requirements in order to work towards citizenship, and reforms of our legal immigration system going forward.  The combination will turn a chaotic and broken immigration system into a legal and orderly one.

Then we learned that the President is asking Congress for half a billion in funding for border security and is planning to deploy up to 1,200 National Guard troops as well.  This is remarkably similar to what Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl have been demanding recently.  McCain and Kyl, former champions of the kind of comprehensive reform that President Obama advocates, both have turned their back on the approach they fought hard for in the past.  They have even embraced the “ask your papers” law approved on a party line vote by the Republican-dominated Arizona legislature.  They now repeat the vacuous sound-bite of “border security first” and have most of the GOP repeating it ad nauseum. 

What’s wrong with “border security first?”  It sounds seductive.  But it’s a trap.  “Border security first” means border security never. 

Here’s why.  When it comes to ending illegal immigration, border enforcement is necessary but insufficient.  By itself it has not and will not work.  A border-only strategy does nothing to stop the jobs magnet that is luring unauthorized immigrants here in the first place. It does nothing to stop unscrupulous employers from hiring cheap labor at cheap wages, undermining US workers. It does nothing to bring 11 million unauthorized immigrants into the system legally.  It does nothing to deal with the fact that some illegal workers and most bad actor employers fail to pay their full and fair share of taxes.  It does nothing to reform our legal immigration system so that it can respond flexibly to future labor market needs. 

Bottom line: “Border security first” has been the strategy used by the Congress and the federal government for the past 17 years.  How’s that worked out so far?  Not so good.  Doing more of the same is a prescription for continued failure.

It galls me to hear McCain and Kyl repeat the mantra that nothing can happen until the border is secured first.  I know that they know – and they know that I know that they know – that they are blocking the only solution that will actually secure the border. 

So what happens next?  More of the same.  The GOP will respond to Obama’s “gesture” by saying it’s not enough.  It’s never enough.  The goal posts keep getting moved.  More guards, more money, more fencing, more Arizona laws.  Then, somewhere in the mythical future, we’ll get around to the other components – as if making sure all hiring is done legally and making sure all immigrants are here legally are afterthoughts.  Meanwhile, the Obama Administration chases the moving goalposts, and most in the GOP get what they want: an excuse for avoiding bipartisan reform and an enforcement-only strategy that is deporting nearly 400,000 people a year.

Giving into McCain and Kyl on immigration sure has the same feel as when the Administration caved and excluded unauthorized immigrants from the health care exchange following Rep. Joe Wilson’s rude outburst last year during the President’s joint address to the Congress.  It has the feel of the President’s recent embrace of off-shore drilling – just weeks before the BP disaster struck. Give them what they want and hope they’ll play nice. 

But while I’m critical of the President’s tactics, I am disgusted by the strategy being employed by Senators McCain and Kyl.  After all, they are top federal officials in Arizona.  And yet they blame Washington for not solving the problem. They are the ones who have decided to abdicate their responsibility to solve the problem through a broad and simple comprehensive reform plan. 

Why?  Because they are more interested in winning elections than in solving problems.  McCain is in a tough primary fight against J.D. Hayworth, a rightwing blowhard who is running to McCain’s right on immigration.  Kyl is trying to help McCain save his seat. Sen. Lindsey Graham stopped working for reform and started blocking it in order to shield his good friend McCain from having to take a tough vote on comprehensive immigration reform before his late August primary. Meanwhile, Gov. Jan Brewer, an appointed governor also facing primary challengers from her right, signed the Arizona immigration law as an act of political self-preservation, consequences be damned. 

Perhaps the American people love it when their elected officials play politics as usual.  Perhaps giving Republicans what they want will encourage them to help out President Obama. Perhaps comprehensive reform gained new momentum today.

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.