Democrats play word games on immigration
Senator Charles Schumer gave a remarkable speech on immigration. Preparing the way for the Obama administration's expected push for comprehensive reform, Schumer adopted a newer, tougher-sounding tone as he promised that a bill would be passed during this Congress.
"People who enter the United States without our permission are illegal aliens, and illegal aliens should not be treated the same as people who entered the United States legally,'' Schumer said." "Illegal immigration is wrong - plain and simple," he continued. "When we use phrases like 'undocumented workers,' we convey a message to the American people that their government is not serious about combating illegal immigration, which the American people overwhelmingly oppose."
Schumer can read the polls as well as anyone. He knows that he can't simply repeat a bunch of pro-amnesty euphemisms and satisfy the voters' desire for strict controls on illegal immigration. That means he has to at least adopt the language of toughness. So out goes that word cherished by many on Schumer's side: "undocumented."
Except not everyone got the message. The very next day, Schumer and other lawmakers met with President Obama to discuss immigration. And guess what the president said? Not once, not twice, but three times:
"We need an effective way to recognize and legalize the status of undocumented workers who are here."
"(The American people are) concerned that any immigration reform simply will be a short-term legalization of undocumented workers with no long-term solution ..."
"The 12 million or so undocumented workers are here ... (are a) group that we have to deal with in a practical, common-sense way."
Obama: "We cannot tolerate employers who exploit undocumented workers"
And not only that, just a few days earlier, at a prayer breakfast with a Hispanic group, Obama said we cannot "tolerate employers who exploit undocumented workers in order to drive down wages."
That's a lot of "undocumented." Which suggests a question for Schumer. Do the president's words convey a message to the American people that their government is not serious about combating illegal immigration?
It turns out even Schumer himself hasn't always taken his own advice. A couple of months ago, during a Capitol Hill hearing, he referred to "undocumented workers" while posing a question to former Fed chairman a href="../../green-card-dv2011-immigration-news-may042009.php">Alan Greenspan. He also used the phrase in his 2008 book, "Positively American."
"Enforcement has already happened and now it's time to proceed to amnesty"
But now he's trying to massage the message. "Schumer's basically doing what McCain tried in the election," says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. "(That is) to agree that 'enforcement first' is the right approach, but to argue that the enforcement has already happened and now it's time to proceed to amnesty."
Schumer's proposal is filled with features that sound tough but likely won't be tough in practice. Krikorian warns that Schumer's promise to employ high-tech enforcement techniques in the future might come at the cost of amnesty today. After the amnesty is in place, the enforcement measures might never get done.
And it's not just that. Is this time of great economic distress really the right time to argue for greater immigration? "You want to bring more people in?" asks one incredulous GOP aide on Capitol Hill. "That was a hard case to make when unemployment was 4 percent, much less when it's almost 10 percent."
And then there's time. Even if Democrats make room in the Senate schedule to address immigration - a big question, given the fights over cap and trade, health care, Sonia Sotomayor and other issues - there's real doubt about whether another big bill can be done amid the rush. That's why Schumer gave himself a little wiggle room by saying the bill would be passed "this Congress," meaning any time between now and the end of next year.
Finally, there's the opposition. A few years ago, Senate Republicans were evenly divided on the Kennedy-McCain immigration measure, a bill that had the strong support of a Republican president. Now it's likely the opposition will be more unified.
"Republicans won't be as divided this time, "the GOP aide says. "Then, you had a Republican president offering what some people said was a reasonable plan, and Republicans split right down the middle. Now, you're going to have a Democratic president with a Democratic Congress offering a left-leaning plan with unemployment in double digits. I don't think that's a recipe for success."
That means trouble for immigration reform - no matter what words Schumer uses to describe it.
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