Owning the immigration issue


In his speech promoting his new emphasis on immigration reform in El Paso, Texas, yesterday, President Obama sounded some sweet notes as well as some sour ones. He is always at his sweetest when he employs traditionally American terms like these:

"We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants-a nation that welcomes those willing to embrace America's ideals and America's precepts. That's why millions of people, ancestors to most of us, braved hardship and great risk to come here-so they could be free to work and worship and start a business and live their lives in peace and prosperity. . . . What matters is that you believe in the ideals on which we were founded; that you believe that all of us are created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. All of us deserve our freedoms and our pursuit of happiness. In embracing America, you can become American. That is what makes this country great. That enriches all of us."

But the trouble for the president is that the way he governs makes it so hard to accept that he believes these words. Success through hard work and entrepreneurial risk? Admiration for our founding documents?

In his more sour comments, he accused Republicans of insincerity on immigration reform: "All the stuff they asked for, we've done. . . . They'll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That's politics."

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But immigration should be a Republican issue. The GOP stands for freedom and opportunity, and that is what the immigrant is all about-seeking opportunity in the land of liberty. Immigrants are a self-selected group. They are people who most embody the characteristics of Americans in their home countries-people who break from the pack, risk-takers. And opportunity is something we have in great abundance.

The current immigration system is terribly inadequate for matching opportunity with opportunity-seekers. That is why there are so many people taking great risks to cross our borders illegally. They know there's work to be done up here, but the system for getting in is choked.

If Republicans would focus on opening up the legal immigration channels much wider than they are now, emphasizing a free economy for those who arrive, especially for small business start-ups, then they could easily beat their political opponents to the finish line on this issue.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.


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