The president seems sympathetic to the illegal and undocumented, but the question is to what degree.
Though he has spoken on a number of occasions about the need to change current immigration laws to deal with current realties, the president has been a bit sphinx-like when it comes to the details. He does, we are certain, want an immigration bill to come to his desk before the race to succeed him begins to throw up so much political dust that everybody starts sputtering and choking on the issue.
But what kind of bill?
Certainly, Mr. Bush would like it to contain a provision that would grant millions of illegals temporary work permits. That, at least, is his bottom line. But how much further does he want Congress to go? Does he want to see a path to earned legalization and ultimately citizenship? Should a bill contain a “touchback” clause requiring the undocumented and illegal to quit America before being allowed to restart their American lives anew?
Some recent reports have revealed a state of thinking in the White House that would result in a more restrictive bill, one that would not go much beyond temporary visas. The White House says it is simply kicking around all possible ideas, some of them conflicting or reflecting both sides of a testy argument.
What is important here is that the administration starts to deliver a clearer, less opaque message, particularly to those members of Congress who are increasingly nervous about an issue that can be easily inflamed.
Some opinion polls indicate that the majority of Americans either favor comprehensive reform, or will just give it a pass. And of course there are many Americans who virulently oppose anything that smacks of an amnesty for what they see as blatant law breaking
Regardless of the currently prevailing views, presidential politics has a way of turning voter feeling this way and that. You can swift-boat just about anything these days – and the illegal immigrant makes for a pretty big target.
That’s why it is important that both the White House and Capitol Hill hit the gas on this issue before legislators start to feel that nervous tingling brought about by impending elections, both in the Congress and for the presidency.
And by legislators we mean Republicans and Democrats. Meaningful reform can only succeed with bipartisan support in both the Senate and House of Representatives. That’s why it is imperative that the president should now come off the border fence and enunciate clearly what he thinks he can sign into law, easily and, yes, with rather more reluctance.
Once he does, the inevitable wheeling and dealing can begin in earnest on Capitol Hill. To long finger the immigration issue yet again would be a travesty and a tragedy. We pay our political leaders to come up with solutions. Thus far, on immigration reform, it has been all pay and little by way of a clear and productive response.