Commentary by Bill Buchanan
The headline in The New York Times, “Obama’s immigration move wins support in battleground states” says it all. Last week, the president outlined a new program that offers a temporary reprieve from deportation for some illegal immigrants. Under the new plan, illegal immigrants will no longer be deported if they were in the United States before they turned 16, are younger than 30, have no criminal record, are attending high school or hold a high school diploma, or have served honorably in the military. Those eligible can then apply for a two-year work permit that can be renewed indefinitely.
The president touted this announcement as “the right thing to do.” If that is the case, then why did he wait three and a half years until just before the election to put the program into place? The last time I saw such a blatantly calculated political move dressed up as “the right thing to do,” I was in high school. That was when the former mayor of my hometown, facing a very close political race, came down front during the invitational hymn to join the local Methodist Church Ñ- two days before the election. God may work in mysterious ways, but even the minister had to look askance at the timing on that one.
Controlling illegal immigration is a major problem in this country, and has been for several years. As is typical, those in Congress ignored the issue and kicked the can down the road until the problem multiplied. The Obama administration has aggressively pursued deportation, and the economy has forced others to leave the United States, but there are still millions of aliens here illegally. When the economy tanked, the additional crush of people looking for social and medical services brought the problem into sharp relief.
But Congress could not decide what to do. Nature abhors a vacuum. In politics, those vacuums are frequently filled by stupidity. When states like Arizona and Alabama became impatient with the federal government’s inaction, they took it upon themselves to pass extremely restrictive and impractical immigration laws. For instance, under Alabama’s statute, it is unlawful to offer a ride to an illegal immigrant. The geniuses that came up with this plan evidently envisioned that if you were driving down the highway and came upon a mother and small children standing beside a broken-down car, you would demand to see proper identification before you would offer them a ride to the next service station for assistance. I’m sorry, but asking regular citizens to become the secret police is a little extreme for me. But that is the law as it now stands until overturned. There are many court challenges to the law already, with more sure to come. That means poor states like Alabama will squander millions of dollars in court fighting over a badly flawed law instead using that money for something worthwhile, like education or infrastructure.
President Obama’s directive is a very astute political move. It will energize the Hispanic vote for the Democrats, which is crucial in a tight race. The real beauty of it is that it also hamstrings his opponent. If Mr. Romney supports the program, he looks weak on immigration, which is a no-no in conservative circles. If he vigorously opposes it, he looks insensitive to those affected by the proposal; they had little or no control on how they came to be in America, and have shown themselves to be productive while here. Who wants to fight that in an election year? The fact that the plan really does nothing to address the immigration issue is secondary. The Democrats are not doing this to solve a problem; they are doing this to win in November.
Joining the church two days before the race probably helped the mayor of my hometown win his election. The president’s immigration move will probably do the same for him.