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That seems unlikely to change. Even though border security remains far from comprehensive, Obama has mocked Republicans for calling for increased enforcement and resources, even cracking that they will not be satisfied unless there is a moat with alligators on the border. In reality, Republicans are asking only for more meaningful enforcement.
Most glaringly, the administration has repeatedly and aggressively frustrated individual states’ attempts to make up for the federal government’s failures of enforcement by making their own efforts to get illegal immigration under control. Undoubtedly the prime example, symbolized by last month’s tense tarmac standoff between Obama and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, is the administration’s attempt to overturn Arizona’s 2009 law making illegal immigration a crime and permitting police to check immigration status. Assailed by Obama and challenged by the Justice Department, the law has now been taken up by the Supreme Court. In the meantime, a state that has suffered more than most from the effects of illegal immigration – illegal immigration has cost Arizona taxpayers more than $2.7 billion since 2009 – has been forced into legal limbo.
But while the Obama administration’s attempts to block meaningful enforcement may appease select constituencies, they are increasingly out of step with the public’s priorities. Polls have consistently shown that Americans favor tougher measures against illegal immigration, which explains why Arizona’s law has enjoyed the backing of a solid majority of the public even as it has been denounced by the administration. That holds true even in solidly liberal bastions like Massachusetts, where 67 percent of residents believe that illegal immigration harms their state.
Illegal immigration may not be the central issue of the 2012 campaign, but it does present the Republican candidates with an opportunity to draw a clear contrast with the incumbent. Whatever one’s view of Mitt Romney’s proposal, one thing is clear: Those hoping for a more assertive federal enforcement effort won’t get it under the current president.
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