Can Immigration Benefit Dems?

By / 5.10.2011

Immigration isn’t a winning issue for either party. Republicans, under the tea party’s spell, are gravitating toward a purely restrictionist stance, which will complicate their party’s efforts to make inroads among Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. electorate. President Obama and the Democrats favor “comprehensive reform,” which includes legalizing millions of workers. With joblessness stuck at twice normal levels, and wages stagnant at best for average workers, that’s a hard sell.

Since there’s obviously no way today’s divided Congress will pass a comprehensive bill, people naturally wonder why Obama keeps returning to the theme. No doubt his advisers want to galvanize another big Latino turnout in 2012, with similarly lopsided Democratic margins. But it’s also true that Obama never stops looking for ways to advance his core campaign promises – just ask the bin Ladens.

Latino advocacy groups are pressing Obama to use his executive powers to slow down deportations. That also will be difficult, because stronger enforcement of U.S. immigration laws constitutes the only common ground in this debate. If you are weak on enforcement, you won’t get a hearing on anything else.

In any case, balanced immigration reform will have to await full economic recovery. In the meantime Obama and progressives should focus on a more modest goal: beginning to align U.S. immigration policy with America’s economic needs. This means expanding the number of high skill visas, stapling green cards to the diplomas of foreign students so they can put what they’ve learned to work in the United States, and opening a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegal aliens who get into college.

cross-posted at The Arena at Politico