Obama’s immigration talk lacks crucial element — action

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The following editorial appeared in the Dallas Morning News on May 12:

We’ve heard the right words before from leading Republicans as well as Democrats, including presidents from both parties: Congress must stop delaying and enact comprehensive immigration reform. And yet these tough-talking politicians predictably lose their intestinal fortitude as each new election cycle looms. Political expediency takes over, and other pressing business provides a convenient distraction.

It’s against that backdrop that the Dallas Morning News greeted President Barack Obama’s speech Tuesday in El Paso, Texas, with a big dose of skepticism. The words sounded right, but we’ve heard this before from him, particularly when he was currying the Hispanic vote during his 2008 campaign.

It’s now 2011, with his re-election campaign looming, and suddenly comprehensive immigration reform is a front-burner issue again. Mere coincidence?

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If Obama means what he says, he must begin marshaling the bipartisan support necessary in Congress to make immigration reform a reality. There may never be a better time.

Both parties recognize that the 2012 elections could pivot on the Hispanic vote.

Both also have well-organized pressure groups that want to see immigration reform passed. Republicans in the business community — restaurant chain owners, construction companies and other employers in labor-intensive industries — are clamoring for legal ways to employ low-cost migrant workers.

Like Obama — and President George W. Bush before him — we agree that employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants should be held accountable and be punished. Any reform measure must include tough requirements to ensure that illegal immigrants are up to date on their taxes, pay fines for having violated the law and get in line to immigrate legally.

We also agree that significant reforms are needed to make it easier for those who have immigrated legally to stay legal, especially when they’re highly skilled migrants helping keep the nation’s high-technology firms internationally competitive.

Farms and other temporary employers need a guest-worker system that gives them easier and more predictable access to low-cost migrant labor.

And the DREAM Act should accompany this reform package to make it easier for the children of longtime-resident illegal immigrants to stay, study, work and serve in what, for many of them, is the only home they’ve known.

Yes, border security is an ongoing concern and should continue to be addressed as a top priority. But the border-security issue must not continue to be the excuse for congressional inaction on the bigger package of reforms. Both issues can and should be addressed simultaneously.

Our gut reaction is that Obama’s renewed enthusiasm for immigration reform is an early attempt to create a wedge issue and mobilize Hispanic voters toward his camp. But it’ll take much more than words to make comprehensive reform a reality. So, enthusiastic as we are about the concept, skeptics we remain.

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