President Obama will follow yesterday's unveiling of a strong bipartisan immigration reform plan with some thoughts of his own today in Las Vegas. He's expected to applaud the reform principles discussed by a group of eight senators yesterday, and he's going to add some improvements he thinks should be a part of any reform legislation. Conservatives are already bristling. Immigration advocates are already fretting. Will the president kill immigration reform by butting in?
Probably not. Obama will make sure today to praise the general principles laid out Monday, most notably the call for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants without criminal records. That proposed path has scuttled previous attempts to overhaul immigration, and it's still a thorny point with Republicans. Obama should and likely will acknowledge progress.
But according to reports, Obama will call for even more. He wants undocumented workers and students to have an even quicker route to a green card. And like us, he's wary about a proposal that a commission of governors and other Southwest state leaders would get to declare the border secure before the path to citizenship can begin for illegal immigrants. It's not hard to imagine Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer taking a very long time to give that kind of nod.
So expect Obama to call for more thorough overhaul - a quicker and easier path for many illegal immigrants to citizenship, and perhaps a less open-ended definition of what makes a border secure. We wish he'd made this pitch in his first four years instead of cowing to politics and opening the door for states to pass their own, harsh immigration laws, but as a second-termer, he's unburdened.
So expect a full-throated pitch effort to take the bipartisan plan even further. By doing so, Obama accomplishes a few things. He reminds Latinos - and Latino voters - which party has been on their side all along. And by asking for more than the group of Senators, he helps make their proposals more centrist and palatable to conservatives.
Yes, you'll hear the requisite Republican barking today about Obama's proposals, but ultimately it won't be enough to do any real damage to reform. Because although Democrats have long wanted immigration reform, Republicans need it more now than anyone.
Peter St. Onge