SAN DIEGO — When the topic is immigration reform, liberals and Democrats always manage to disappoint.
President Barack Obama has never been serious or sincere about fighting for immigration reform beyond making a passing reference to it in a speech. In the State of the Union address, which was nearly 7,000 words long, Obama dedicated 121 words to the cause. His remarks were almost identical to what he has said in previous years. Nothing new. Nothing bold. Nothing doing.
Yet, nothing was a whole lot of something for Frank Sharry. The oft-quoted executive director of America’s Voice — a Washington, D.C.-based immigration reform group that, like the rest of the organizations that grass-roots activists call the “nonprofit industrial complex,” would be out of business if reform were ever achieved — declared that Obama’s brevity on immigration was actually a sign of just how passionate he is on the subject.
“We didn’t expect much from the speech on immigration reform, and the president met our expectations,” Sharry said in a statement. “But we understand. In the crazy world of Washington, D.C., the more he says about immigration reform, the more Republicans are likely to resist it. In fact, you could say that he wants immigration reform legislation so badly, he downplayed it in the speech.”
If there were a Hall of Fame for political spin, Sharry’s line would be inducted on the first ballot. The less Obama talks about something, the more he cares. It’s a good thing that he isn’t even more committed to immigration reform, or every word would have vanished off the page.
Speaking of spin, even though Obama’s 121 words didn’t mention citizenship as an essential part of any reform package, AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka said in a recent interview with The Washington Post that any legislation that doesn’t provide citizenship is a deal-breaker.
He labeled as a “nonstarter” an emerging Republican plan to give legal status without a direct path to citizenship. And, he said, if this is where lawmakers finally land, labor would pull its support.
“It means (illegal immigrants) would never get citizenship, never get a green card,” Trumka told the Post. “It’s a joke. It’s a hoax, is what it is. It’s like fool’s gold.”
The real hoax is a powerful labor leader expecting the American people to believe that what motivates him to draw a line in the sand is that he sincerely cares about the welfare of millions of illegal immigrants who he wants to get green cards and become U.S. citizens.
Really? Since when has organized labor cared about that? For the blue-collar crowd, immigrants are the enemy — competitors who work harder and for lower wages. That’s how it was in 1986 and 2006-07 when organized labor opposed immigration reform efforts that it feared threatened union members. And it hasn’t changed.
Let’s say Trumka gets what he claims he wants and Congress grants 11 million undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship. The next thing you know, those immigrant workers are going to leave the unsavory, bottom-of-the-food-chain jobs they have now and move into better-paying unionized jobs in construction, plumbing and electrical work.
How do you suppose rank-and-file union members will feel about that? Right. They will feel scared and angry. Trumka knows this, and he also knows that demanding citizenship will kill reform efforts.
You can’t depend on bogus supporters of immigration reform to tell the truth. But here it is. Obama is only interested in immigration in so far as he can use it as a weapon against Republicans. Since Obama was in the Senate and helped kill a bipartisan immigration reform bill with “poison pill” amendments intended to ingratiate himself with organized labor, it’s been clear he belongs to that wing of the Democratic Party that sees immigrants as a threat to U.S. workers.
As president, Obama has catered to this faction by deporting nearly 2 million people. All the while, he has dragged his feet or put up roadblocks to ensure that he never has to worry about signing a bill that he can’t sell to blue-collar workers.
Immigration reform is not likely to happen. Some very powerful people on the left will see that it doesn’t.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group.