Obama Immigration Speech: It’s About Time

If you read the transcript of the president’s immigration policy speech in Las Vegas today, it mostly follows very familiar tracks. It defines “comprehensive reform” as including better enforcement at the borders; an “earned path to citizenship” for the undocumented; congressional ratification of his administrative efforts to implement a version of the DREAM Act; reforms in the processes for legal immigration; an expansion of special visas for those in needed scientific and technological professions and study programs, etc. etc. Obama also praised the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” list of “principles” for reform.

But as Buzzfeed‘s Zeke Miller reports, a White House “fact sheet” that was released in conjunction with the speech noted two aspects of the upcoming administration proposal that differ from the Senate “principles,” and on which the president was silent today:

[I[t treats same-sex couples the same way as straight couples, and doesn’t include a “trigger mechanism” to make reform contingent on stricter border security efforts. Both are potential deal-breakers with congressional Republicans, though neither earned a direct mention from Obama in his remarks.

“Unless there’s real enforcement triggers, we’re not going to have a bill that moves on,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday in an interview with radio host Rush Limbaugh.

I have no doubt that Obama would be fine with picking a fight over equal treatment of same-sex couples. As for the “enforcement trigger” idea, before Republicans can insist on Obama considering that idea, they’re going to have to reach agreement among themselves about what it actually means and who will “enforce the enforcement.”

Obama did warn Congress not to go too far in accommodating those who don’t much support comprehensive immigration reform in the first place:

[W]e know where the consensus should be. Now, of course, there will be rigorous debate about many of the details, and every stakeholder should engage in real give-and-take in the process. But it’s important for us to recognize that the foundation for bipartisan action is already in place. And if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.

To translate: No, Senator Rubio, you do not have a blank check in time and substance to get all the conservatives you may need for a presidential campaign on board with an immigration reform proposal.

So Obama is asking Republicans to deal themselves in or out of the reform bandwagon quickly. It remains to be seen which way the bulk of them decide to move, and if they’re “out,” then whether the bandwagon is going anywhere at all.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.