Obama tackles immigration

It was a busy day today, so I only paid the briefest attention President Obama’s speech about immigration, but I was struck by the emphasis on what immigration reform would mean to middle class families:

So one way to strengthen the middle class in America is to reform the immigration system so that there is no longer a massive underground economy that exploits a cheap source of labor while depressing wages for everybody else. I want incomes for middle-class families to rise again. I want prosperity in this country to be widely shared. I want everybody to be able to reach that American dream. And that’s why immigration reform is an economic imperative. It’s an economic imperative.

The president is absolutely right. The presence of 14 million undocumented immigrants forced into an underground economy undoubtedly has many ramifications for the broader economy:

Because undocumented immigrants live in the shadows, where they’re vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses that skirt taxes, and pay workers less than the minimum wage, or cut corners with health and safety laws, this puts companies who follow the rules, and Americans who rightly demand the minimum wage or overtime or just a safe place to work, it puts those businesses at a disadvantage…

This frames the debate in an entirely new way – one that, if it is taken seriously by the president’s opponents, could lead to real pressure for genuine reform. Of course, that is a huge and unlike “if.”

Alas.

Instead, what we’ll see is more demagoguery on this issue, cries that Obama wants to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants so they’ll vote Democratic, etc.

This is a serious problem affecting real people – both illegal immigrants and struggling middle class families. It deserves real attention from politicians in Washington. Americans should be angry about the fact that it has almost no chance of getting that attention.

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