On Tuesday in El Paso Texas, president Barack Obama delivered his latest 2012 campaign speech, presented as a solution for comprehensive immigration reform. Referring to illegal aliens as "undocumented immigrants," Mr. Obama's strategy became plain when, as with his budget speech in April, he once again accused Republicans of being the roadblock to comprehensive reform. It is comprehensive reform he apparently believes a majority of Americans are behind. As with many of Mr. Obama's speeches, it becomes necessary to separate rhetoric from reality.
Early in the speech, the president stated the obvious. "We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants," he said, "a nation that welcomes those willing to embrace 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 live their lives in peace." Later on, he added that "we are standing at the border today because we also recognize that being a nation of laws goes hand in hand with being a nation of immigrants."
So far, so good. But then it began. The president, in an apparent attempt to obfuscate the difference between illegal and legal immigrants, sought to characterize the debate, not as a difference between those who are law-abiding and those who are not, but as "the politics of who is and who isn’t allowed to enter this country...about who we are as a people, about what it means to be an American...[So] we’ve seen a lot blame and politics and ugly rhetoric."
This is nonsense. The American public, much to its credit, has long made the distinction between its welcoming attitude towards those who have come here legally, and their ongoing frustration with those who have not. A Gallup poll reveals that a majority of Americans favor securing the border over dealing with illegals currently here, including a majority of Republicans and a plurality of Independent voters. Democrats were opposed. Yet at the same time, solid majorities in all three groups said illegals "cost taxpayers too much."
Mr. Obama then tried to characterize the current stalemate as one due to the "usual Washington games" which have resulted in "the mounting consequences of decades of inaction." Furthermore, the president claimed "a massive underground economy that exploits a cheap source of labor while depressing wages for everyone else" makes immigration reform "an economic imperative."
This claim is disingenuous at best. Washington addressed comprehensive immigration reform twenty-six years ago. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 granted amnesty to approximately 2.7 million illegals, purportedly in exchange for stricter border control and a greater crackdown on employers who hired illegals. How successful were the second and third requirements of the act? As Mr. Obama himself admitted, "there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States." And while blaming illegal aliens hired by unscrupulous business owner for depressing wages may be true, it is also true that 9 percent of Americans officially unemployed aren't making any wages at all -- and many jobs that could be had by them are being taken by illegals.
But Mr. Obama continued to fudge reality. Noting that "the greatest impediments to reform were questions about border security" the president claimed that "over the past two years we have answered those concerns," noting that "the Border Patrol has 20,000 agents -- more than twice as many as there were in 2004, and that "[those against reform] wanted a fence" which is "now basically complete." He spoke of "tripling the number of intelligence analysts..deploy[ing] unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the skies from Texas to California" and forming a "partnership with Mexico to fight the transnational criminal organizations." He claimed the measures are getting results, saying "we've seized 31 percent more drugs, 75 percent more currency, and 64 percent more weapons than before," and that "apprehensions along the border have been cut by nearly 40 percent from two years ago."
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), however, provides a reality check. As they reported in February, "[O]f the nearly 2,000 miles separating the U.S. and Mexico, only 129 miles are under 'full control' of the Border Patrol. The report found that 873 miles are under 'operational control,' which is only 44 percent of the entire Southern border." Furthermore, the "Mexican border with Texas has the most holes, especially between Fort Hancock and Brownsville, where 70 percent to 90 percent of the state line is at the two lowest levels of protection, 'monitored' and 'low-level monitored.'"
As for the fence being "basically complete," that is purposefully misleading statement. What is complete is 650 miles of the 670 miles called for under the Secure Fence Act of 2006 signed into law by President George W. Bush in October of that year. What remains unfenced is the other two-thirds of our nearly two thousand miles of southern border. Thus, when Mr. Obama accuses Republicans of "moving the goal posts one more time" because they refuse to accept that the border is secure enough to contemplate comprehensive reform, it is nothing more than campaign rhetoric disguised as factual information.
Little changed later in the speech when the president outlined his specifics for reform. Moving from border security and holding businesses accountable if they hired illegals, he noted that "those who are here illegally have a responsibility as well..to admit that they broke the law, pay their taxes, pay a fine, and learn English. And they have to undergo background checks and a lengthy process before they can get in line for legalization." That last bit begs an obvious question: where will illegals be getting in line? Can they remain in America, or will they be required to re-enter the country legally?
The president also re-iterated his support for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, aka the DREAM ACT, which would legalize those who arrived in the country as minors, provided they got a college degree or completed two years of military service within a specific time frame. And once again, he fudged the facts on its most recent rejection, claiming that "even though it received a majority of votes in the Senate, it was blocked when several Republicans who had previously supported the DREAM Act voted no."
Reality check number two: Democrats controlled both houses of Congress prior to the 2010 election. The DREAM Act passed in the House, but it died in the Senate when Democrats could only muster 55 of the 60 votes required to end a filibuster. And while a majority of Republicans did in fact vote against it, five Democrats also voted no: Max Baucus and John Tester of Montana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. If those Democrats had voted yes, the DREAM Act would have passed.
The president did offer one fix with which most Americans would likely agree: "reforming our outdated system of legal immigration." Yet even here the president remained potentially contentious. Saying that "while applicants wait for approval, for example, they’re often forbidden from visiting the United States... husbands and wives may have to spend years apart. Parents can’t see their children. I don’t believe the United States of America should be in the business of separating families."
Perhaps not, but this is a president who plays fast and loose with the facts, and one of the ideas many American resent with respect to comprehensive immigration reform is the concept known as "chain migration," which refers most commonly to the extended families of newly legalized immigrants being allow to come to the United States to "reunite" with their relatives. As the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) noted, "Illegal aliens given amnesty by Congress in 1986 are now fueling naturalization in record numbers. As these former illegal aliens become citizens, all of their immediate relatives qualify to come immediately to the United States, and start new migration chains of their own." Again, that was when 2.7 million illegals were granted amnesty, not potentially 11 million--assuming that number is accurate.
As of now, accurate or not, it is irrelevant. Despite the president's speech yesterday, comprehensive immigration reform is currently a non-starter in Congress -- and Mr. Obama knows it. Despite telling the audience that "there is a movement for reform that’s gathering strength from coast to coast," the president knows full well that if he couldn't get comprehensive immigration reform passed when Democrats had substantial majorities in both houses of Congress, there's no chance of getting it done now. He also knows that a substantial portion of the mainstream media will not bother to fact-check this speech. Thus, the president can get away with the narrative of demonizing Republicans in order to re-energize the Hispanic vote he believes will ensure his 2012 re-election as a result.
Yet such re-energizing is not a done deal. An April Gallup Poll revealed that his support among Hispanics has been eroding. Even more importantly, Mr. Obama might want to consider how comprehensive immigration reform plays with respect to another constituency crucial to his re-election: a Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey taken in March reveals that "69% of voters not affiliated with either major party," aka the Independent voters who put the president over the top in 2008, believe, similar to the results in the Gallup poll mentioned earlier, that "gaining control of the border is more important" than "legalizing the status of undocumented workers already living here."
Perhaps the president won the battle with respect to the Hispanic vote in El Paso today. Whether he'll win the war in November of 2012 when Independent voters makes their preferences known remains to be seen. One last thing. It should be noted that, as a result of Osama bin Laden's death, last week was arguably the best one for the president since his election in 2008. Yet for some reason, Mr. Obama couldn't give the American public a consistent story about what happened. As with this speech, one has to wonder whether such inconsistency is by accident, design--or a habit of dissembling this president finds impossible to break.
Arnold Ahlert is a contributor to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.com.