On Tuesday night, President Obama suggested that fixing our broken immigration system would be one of his second-term policy priorities. Notably, he made no mention of immigration, or immigration reform, during his 2008 victory speech. Times have changed.
For Schwartz Fellow Tamar Jacoby, the president’s recent immigration reference raised some critical questions. The key one: “What can the president do to change the dynamic [in Washington] – to make immigration reform more achievable now than it has been over the last four stalemated years?”
That dynamic is more complex than simple partisan gridlock, wrote Jacoby, the president of ImmigrationWorks USA, in a statement released this week.
Here’s how it has historically played out:
“Democrats owned the issue and used it to hammer Republicans – not, in far too many cases, in order to pass a bill, but rather to show voters how recalcitrant Republicans were and how unsympathetic to minorities,” writes Jacoby. ”Meanwhile, Republicans ignored the issue, as if it would simply go away, or stood in the corner with their arms folded across their chests: on immigration at least, the party of NO.”
Now, she says, that dynamic seems to be changing. Congressional Republicans like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have latched onto the issue during the past few months and proposed legislation that could help improve the system. “Can the president take advantage of and build on this new dynamic rather than reverting to the old pattern – the seemingly righteous but unproductive partisan blame game?” Jacoby wonders.
She maps out a strategy: “It would have to start quietly behind the scenes, far from the limelight. Both parties would need to own reform. Republicans would have tostretch in what they’re prepared to support. But Democrats too would have to compromise – any bipartisan legislation will fall far short of their wish list. An all-inclusive package like the McCain-Kennedy bill of 2006 seems unlikely. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be real breakthroughs – and real relief for everyone, immigrants and the businesses that count on them, who desperately need a better immigration system.”
Learn more about what this election means for immigration reform here.