President Obama devoted only 121 of the 6,778 words in his prepared State of the Union text to immigration reform. That actually may be a sign that some long overdue immigration reform might be accomplished this year.
Obama offered no specifics in his call for reform, and drew no lines in the sand. Nor did he threaten any executive action if Congress fails to act, as he did on other issues. In other words, he left an opening to work with the GOP.
“Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same,” Obama said.
The sweeping immigration reform plan passed last year in the Democratic-led Senate isn't going anywhere in the Republican-led House.
But signs have emerged that the House Republicans, who have long been divided on an approach to immigration, might support some version of immigration reform.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the House Republican leadership this week will release a statement of principles on immigration reform that will call for a path to legal status — but not citizenship — for immigrants in the country illegally.
That's well short of what Democratic leaders, including the White House, want from immigration reform, but it may be a starting point for discussion.
Early signs point to strong opposition within Republican circles, for a variety of reasons.
Most importantly, “amnesty” has become the bogeyman of conservative politics. Any talk of immigration reform will draw screams of “amnesty” and threats of primaries for Republicans who deign to even talk about anything other than tighter border security.
Also, many conservative leaders feel the GOP has a strong electoral hand in the 2014 midterms if the party focuses on the economy and health-care reform. Addressing immigration reform in 2014, in this view, could prove needlessly divisive within the party and lessen the GOP chances in the fall.
That is a short-sighted view.
Republicans can gain only so much traction by simply blocking Democratic initiatives.
At some point, they need to produce results. And immigration reform seems to be the best opportunity on any issue for Democrats and Republicans to show that our system can still produce legislation on significant issues.
There is universal agreement that our current immigration system is broken, and has been for decades.
Economists overwhelmingly say that improving the immigration system will lead to stronger growth. And no one would suggest that having millions of people living in the shadows, in uncertain status, is good for those people or our nation.
“So let's get immigration reform done this year,” President Obama said in his State of the Union Address.
We couldn't agree more.