Obama on Immigration

I realized last night that, to be fair, I should also take a look at other Presidential hopefuls and their positions on immigration. I’ll try to cover one candidate per day.

Obama is the current sweetheart of the Presidential hopefuls. He’s young, charismatic and good looking, and seems squeaky clean when compared to his cohort. In fact, the best that the GOP rumor mill has come up with is that he was educated in an Islamic school in Jakarta. This is clearly another example of the GOP playing dirty (they actually tried to pin this on Senator Clinton. Certain “unnamed sources” asserted that the Clinton’campaign leaked the rumor, which by the way, is untrue). The only conclusion one can draw from this behavior, with the election two years away, is that the GOP is truly frightened of Obama and his chances in the race. Of course, they never miss an opportunity to go after Senator Clinton.

Ah–I digress. What are Senator Obama’s positions on immigration? His senate website offers the following information:

Senator Obama shares the growing public concern about illegal immigration in the United States. The challenge facing President Bush and Congress is how to effectively stop the flow of illegal immigrants across our borders, better manage immigration flows going forward, and deal with illegal aliens who are already living and working in this country.

The Department of Homeland Security recognizes that identifying and deporting 11 million undocumented workers currently in this country would be both logistically impossible and highly disruptive to the American economy. Instead of mass deportations, Senator Obama believes that Congress must pass comprehensive, compassionate reform that reaffirms the rule of law and brings the undocumented population out of hiding.

The Senate Immigration Bill

Senator Obama played a key role in the crafting of the immigration reform bill that the Senate passed in May 2006. The bill, which President Bush supports, would provide more funds and technology for border security and prevent employers from skirting our laws by hiring illegal immigrants. The bill also would provide immigrants who are now contributing and responsible members of society an opportunity to remain in the country and earn citizenship. But not all illegal immigrants would be guaranteed the right to remain in the U.S. under this proposal; they would first have to pay a substantial fine and back taxes, learn English, satisfy a work requirement, and pass a criminal background check.

Senator Obama offered three amendments that were included in the Senate bill. The first amendment strengthens the requirement that a job be offered at a prevailing wage to American workers before it is offered to a guest worker. The second amendment makes it simple, but mandatory, for employers to verify that their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States. And the third amendment authorizes $3 million a year for the FBI to improve the speed and accuracy of the background checks required for immigrants seeking to become citizens.

A final consensus bill must now be negotiated to work out the differences between the House and Senate immigration bills. Senator Obama appreciates the serious ramifications of this issue – for American workers, Illinois communities, and immigrant families. He will continue to work with President Bush, his colleagues in Congress, and the citizens of Illinois to improve the effectiveness of our immigration laws and strengthen border security.

The first thing that stands out here is that Obama is not trying to distance himself from President Bush on this issue. That is good, because Bush’s initiatives on immigration have been visionary and well thought out (alas–if only they could be on most other issues as well).

You’ll also see that Senator Obama offered three important and essential amendments to the Senate bill last year. The first is pretty straightforward: guest workers cannot be offered a job until it is established that no legal resident or citizens are available to take it. The second and third are more significant: he would include a simple and rapid way for employers to establish that job applicants are indeed legal residents (I’m assuming here there would have to be an I.D. program) and more money for the FBI speed up background checks, which as I’ve mentioned here before, takes an abysmally long time and encourages families to come to the U.S. illegally so they can be together while they await their papers.

In short, Senator Obama is showing leadership on immigration and not simply acting like a candidate who wants a clean, and mediocre, platform.

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