A popular narrative about immigration reform has emerged in the media: that Congress would be discussing comprehensive immigration reform right now if only President Obama could get support from Republicans.
This narrative lets Obama off the hook for a string of broken promises to Latino voters that he would tackle immigration reform — in his first 100 days, or in his first year in office, or before the midterm elections, or after the midterm elections but still in his first term, or in his second term. Meanwhile, it also helps discourage Latino voters from bolting from the Democratic Party and voting Republican by painting the GOP as flat-out hostile to immigration reform.
The narrative was also the subtext of a recent interview, on National Public Radio, of Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Land recently spoke to a gathering of Hispanic Baptists where he assured his audience that he and the members of his denomination support a pathway to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants. Land appeared on Tell Me More with Michel Martin.
(Disclosure: I’m a paid contributor to the show.)
The problem isn’t what Land said. He was right on the money. As when he said:
The government has not been doing its job, for at least the last 24 years under both Republican and Democratic presidents, when it comes to immigration law, in terms of securing the border or in terms of enforcing its law. And, as a result, the government shares some culpability.
Or when he noted bluntly:
We’ve got 12 to 17 million people who are here illegally, and, I think it’s important to note, they broke the law so they could come here and work. Whereas our homegrown criminals tend to break the law so they don’t have to work.
Or when he insisted:
It’s not realistic that we’re going to round them all up and send them home. And it’s also not how we should treat people. We need an earned pathway to legal status or citizenship, whichever they prefer.
The problem is that the interview was framed as something extraordinary. This was “man bites dog.” The message was that Land was an aberration among conservatives, something that Land himself seemed to resist. He pointed out that it was a conservative, George W. Bush, who put immigration reform on the national agenda in 2001.
Land could have gone further and argued that, actually, when you really think about it, liberal Democrats are just as conflicted about reforming the immigration system.
They were conflicted in 1986, when Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, a Republican, wrote a bill that gave amnesty to nearly 3 million people — a bill that was eventually signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, another Republican.
And they are just as conflicted now. In fact, some of them range from being ambivalent to the prospect of legalizing the undocumented to being outright hostile to it. Some are worried about being portrayed by Republican opponents as soft on illegal immigration, just as earlier generations of Democrats were painted as weak on national security. Most are beholden to labor unions, which oppose any immigration reform package that includes plans to import additional guest workers, which labor leaders insist represent competition for U.S. workers. And finally, many liberal Democrats are naturally sympathetic to blue collar constituents who feel most vulnerable to being displaced amid increased levels of immigration.
So it makes sense that a freshman senator would, in early 2006, have worked with Democratic leader Harry Reid to derail a promising comprehensive immigration reform bill proposed by Sen. John McCain and Sen. Edward Kennedy. The plan was to propose “poison pill” amendments that Democrats knew Republicans — who were then in the majority — wouldn’t support. The poison came at the behest of organized labor in an attempt to thwart any plan that included guest workers.
Just as it makes sense that this freshman senator, upon becoming president, would drag his feet on immigration reform, maintain the controversial policy of raiding workplaces, dedicate just 37 words to immigration in his first State of the Union address, oversee an administration that deported more illegal immigrants than that of his predecessor during its final year, and sabotage immigration reform in the Senate by telling reporters aboard Air Force One that there was no “appetite” on Capitol Hill for tackling immigration reform — all before once again blaming Republicans for the fact that Congress and the White House have not been able to move on this issue.
If President Obama wants to know why immigration reform seems dead in the water, at least until Spring 2011, he doesn’t have to look far. He only has to look in the mirror.
You’re not hearing that from the liberal media. But you should be.