Note: Cross-posted at Huffington Post.
On June 25th, President Obama is convening a bi-partisan meeting to discuss the prospects for moving on comprehensive immigration reform later this year. If he asked me about the politics of immigration reform in this economic climate, this is the memo I would send to him:
Mr. President, with so many challenges facing America, is it too much to tackle immigration reform this year?
Reform advocates point to the pledge you made on the campaign trail, to make immigration reform a “top priority in my first year.” Yet skeptics argue that the economic crisis makes your campaign promise moot. They believe you should delay immigration legislation and focus on the economy and your other legislative priorities. While addressing immigration may seem to be heaping another issue onto an already-full plate of priorities, there are four compelling reasons for you to move forward with reform this year.
First, the public support for immigration reform is growing stronger notwithstanding the conventional wisdom advanced by the political class. For a big majority of Americans, the failure to address immigration is a symbol of Washington’s failure to confront and solve tough problems. Comprehensive immigration reform – the key elements of which require strong enforcement at the borders and in the workplace, coupled with a mechanism for unauthorized immigrants to get legal, learn English and pay taxes – is viewed by the majority of Americans as the most practical approach to addressing this complicated problem.
And in this economic downturn, voters are actually more supportive of immigration reform than at any other time. As pollster Celinda Lake tells it, “voters are very focused on finding solutions to our problems. They support comprehensive immigration reform as a practical, common-sense solution and have no patience for politicians who want to point fingers and score points rather than fix the problem.”
The evidence for this point of view is growing. A Washington Post/ABC News poll showed 61% support for giving undocumented immigrants the right to live in the U.S. “if they pay a fine and meet other requirements,” a 12% increase since 2007. The Pew Research Center recently found that 63% of respondents supported a pathway to citizenship, up 5% from 2007.