President Obama Faces Tough Odds in Pushing Amnesty

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President Obama promised during the campaign to pick up where the Bush administration left off in 2007 in trying to obtain legal status for the millions of illegal immigrants in the country. He did not make this a major theme of the 2008 campaign, but gave the appropriate signals to the illegal immigrant and cheap labor lobbies whenever he was asked about the issue. In one debate he went so far as indicate his support for drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants. John McCain largely agreed with him, but restrained by his Republican base, did not raise the issue. In the early months of the administration, the President, overwhelmed with other issues, put off amnesty until 2010. Last month Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the administration would push for “immigration reform” (meaning illegal immigrants would be able to pay a modest fine and obtain work eligibility, regardless of how many felonies they have committed over the course of their illicit work history here) in early 2010, which is a congressional election year.

Congress was overwhelmed with opposition to the Bush amnesty proposal in 2007, and the Senate could not overcome the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. At the time, the economy was strong. Now the prospect of giving amnesty to 15 million illegal immigrants would be made in the context of the highest unemployment in decades. Thus, anyone looking for lower-wage job would find the endeavor made three or four times more difficult by the prospect of tremendous competition for those jobs from formerly illegal immigrants now released into the labor market.

The consequences of this enormous expansion of supply of workers will be a lowering of the price paid for labor. This is surely very unwelcome news for the unemployed and anyone afraid of becoming unemployed in the near term. Plus, it being an election year, members of congress are unlikely to want to embrace such a proposal.

In fact, I doubt the issue will ever come to a vote in either house of Congress in 2010. The generic election ballot polling indicates the two parties are near parity, which is a huge change from last year. Amnesty will delight the usual proponents of cheap labor and the hardcore Hispanic lobby, but not many others. It will infuriate large segments of the electorate, larger than in 2007, and guarantee major political problems for the President’s supporters. So I think it will be 2011 for “immigration reform” and we have been spared this tortuous debate for now.