Obama's Opening Argument on Immigration: We've Solved Border Security

By Chris Good

The president says those who asked for a lower crime rate and more agents on patrol got what they wanted

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President Obama delivered his opening argument Tuesday in the debate over immigration reform, a debate he opened by bringing it up. The political point he made, before a friendly crowd in El Paso, Texas, was this: Border-security isn't such a big problem.

"We've answered those concerns," Obama said, pointing out that violent crime in border towns has "dropped by a third."

"We now have more boots on the ground on the Southwest border than at any point in our history," Obama said. "Border patrol has 20,000 agents, more than twice as many as there were in 2004."

Obama posed this as a response to Republicans who have said that border security should be the first and foremost priority of immigration policy. Just last week, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner told Roll Call that discussion of comprehensive reform can't begin until the border is made more secure.

It's a novel approach, politically. In recent attempts at reform, added border-security measures have been offered in exchange for a deal on citizenship. In 2007, before the last big immigration-reform push fell apart, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tried to appease skeptics of the bill, proposed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), by throwing in an addition $4.4 billion for border-security funding.

Among hardliners and many Republicans, it seems there is zero interest in comprehensive reform involving a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens -- which is the cornerstone of what Democrats have sought. To many conservatives, immigration policy simply means securing the U.S.-Mexico border.

This time, Obama is saying border-security hawks have already gotten what they've long demanded.

The president's recent immigration push is curious, since comprehensive immigration reform has been seen as a non-starter since the failure of the McCain-Kennedy bill. In 2008, President Obama pledged to enact immigration reform during his first term in the White House, but he lacks the votes in Congress to pass it. He's said it himself: "I don't have 60 votes in the Senate. I've got to have some support from Republicans," Obama said in May 2010, during a joint press conference at the White House with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

The White House released a "blueprint" for immigration reform Tuesday, and, while it offers some guidelines for moving forward with border security, the document stresses the resources that are already in place.

We can probably expect to hear more statistics from Democrats on Department of Homeland Security manpower and falling crime rates along the Southwest border.

Image credit: Jim Young/Reuters

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http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/05/obamas-opening-argument-on-immigration-weve-solved-border-security/238701/