Less Than Meets the Eye: President Obama Backs Piecemeal Immigration Reform

By Stanley Renshon on November 26, 2013

The president recently said, as the Wall Street Journal headline put it, "Obama Backs Piecemeal Immigration Overhaul". Or, as the article put it, "President Barack Obama said Tuesday he would accept a piecemeal approach to overhauling the immigration system, a move aimed at jump-starting a moribund process that reflects the realities of a divided Congress."

Supporters of the Senate's immigration bill were appropriately enthusiastic. Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, who leads a coalition of businesses that backs a "comprehensive" immigration overhaul, was quoted as saying. "So, this is a good thing. It shows he is serious about getting it done."

Why? Because according to Mr. Noorani, "Mr. Obama had never before been as explicit about accepting a piecemeal approach." The Wall Street Journal agreed: "Mr. Obama's statement was his most extensive about accepting a piecemeal approach."

Yes, but again on the president's own terms and those terms mirror the Senate's bill.

In the reported interview, the president is quoted as saying:

If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don't care what it looks like, as long as it's actually delivering on those core values that we talk about.

What we don't want to do is simply carve out one piece of it — let's say agricultural jobs, which are important, but is easier, frankly, or the high-skilled jobs that many in your audience here would immediately want to do — but leave behind some of the tougher stuff that still needs to get done.

And what is that "tougher stuff" that needs to get done? Why legalization and a "path to citizenship" for the estimated 11.7 million illegal aliens now living and working in this country. USAToday reported that, "While calling on the House to act, Obama will insist that a final immigration bill include strengthened border security and creation of 'an earned path to citizenship' for people who are already in the country illegally,' said the White House."

So, nothing much has really changed. The president still has as the centerpiece of his immigration wish list: legalization of the country's illegal alien population.

What's more, its clear from the comments of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that Democrats still hope that they will be able to get the House to pass some measures that will be folded into the Senate's huge and complex immigration bill.

She is quoted in the Washington Times as saying, "We have always said on that score that the speaker is the speaker, and any way he wants to bring the bill to the floor, in pieces or in big chunks or whatever it is, we just want to see legislation come to the floor so that Congress can act upon that legislation, the House can, and send it to the conference table with the Senate."

The Washington Times wrote that, "Lawmakers on Capitol Hill appeared to be reaching consensus this week that immigration reform can be done in pieces — a key procedural concession by President Obama and his fellow Democrats that could help revive chances for a bill next year." (Emphasis added.)

Having the president and the congressional Democrats accept a "piecemeal" reform so that they can get into committee so that the Senate bill can prevail is not a "key procedural concession".

It is an obvious and avoidable procedural trap. However, there is a way around it.

Next: Mr. Boehner: Call the President's Immigration Bluff