New hope for immigration reform despite a divided Congress

You have to give President Barack Obama credit — he knows that talk of immigration reform is guaranteed to get people’s hopes up. His timing isn’t always the best, but at least he doesn’t let the discussion die.

On the heels of year-end analyses that generally agree he took a public policy beating in 2013, Obama once again has raised talk about fixing our woefully broken immigration system in 2014. He suggested that bipartisan passage of federal budget legislation just before the holiday recess might indicate a new willingness among Republicans and Democrats to work together rather than spend most of their energies torpedoing each other’s proposals.

But lawmakers have more immediate issues to attack, and they aren’t through with the budget yet. Their year-end compromise addressed spending measures that should have been passed months ago and taken effect last October. In fact, the president’s budget plan for the next fiscal year is due already.

And let’s not forget that pesky debt ceiling. After a two-week government shutdown in October and many more weeks of finger-pointing and grandstanding, Congress suspended the nation’s spending limit through Feb. 7 — that’s just four weeks away.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said the administration can use creative accounting measures to keep the country under the credit cap for a few weeks, but if the debt ceiling isn’t raised by the end of February the government again will risk defaulting on its debt, which officials say could throw the global economy

into turmoil.

The Congressional Budget Office suggests the government could buy more time, perhaps through spring, if it takes other measures such as delaying income tax refunds.

We doubt that would be a popular option.

Obama’s latest immigration talk could be one of several trial balloons he’s floating to test public reaction as he prepares his State of the Union address to Congress later this month.

The president did offer one valuable concession, saying he would stop insisting that the House of Representatives pass the full comprehensive immigration reform bill the Senate passed last June.

An all-or-nothing approach threatens to gum up the works with regard to an issue as complex as immigration reform.

To some people that reform means controlling our borders; to others it’s the passage of more reasonable and humane policies on residency and citizenship. Still others are looking for workers to help jump-start our sputtering economy, while others wish to start by simply streamlining immigration bureaucracy to reduce delays and uncertainty that surely prompt many frustrated foreign nationals to bypass the legal process altogether.

With such lack of agreement, it seems more practical to pass whatever measures aren’t disputed, and move on to the more contentious issues.

Even then, the process won’t be easy, nor will it be quick.

But it must begin, and we’re glad the president is willing to keep it in the public’s minds.

MONITOR EDITORIALS

Daily editorials reflect the majority opinion of The Monitor’s editorial board.

Adam Wratten

Adam Wratten is Online Editor for The Monitor.

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