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Mr. Boehner, What was the Punto?

September 21, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


President Obama on Al Punto


Over the weekend, the President made the rounds of the talk shows.  Among others, he appeared on Univision’s Al Punto with Jorge Ramos.  On that program, the President’s pre-recorded interview appeared just before another pre-recorded interview with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH).  The juxtaposition gave the large Latino audience of the popular program a chance to hear the two leaders’ positions on immigration reform.


The host (Jorge Ramos) focused mainly on the health care reform debate, but the questioning turned to immigration reform when the subject of the undocumented came up.  Mr. Ramos pointed out to the President that, if the undocumented were not covered, they would continue to rely on hospital emergency rooms for their medical care. The President tried to separate immigration reform from the health care debate.


“I'd really like to solve our immigration problem, but I can't solve every problem all at once.”


Mr. Ramos reminded the President that, in an earlier appearance on his show, the President made a promise that in his first year, there would be an immigration bill that he strongly supports.  Ramos asked the President if he could keep that promise.


“I've put Secretary Janet Napolitano, of Homeland Security, in charge of first making a whole host of administrative changes and eliminating the most negative practices that we have been seeing. And then what I've said is, start working up legislation that we think can, over time, move through Congress. Now, whether that bill gets introduced on November 15th or December 15th or January 15th, that's not really the issue. I mean, it would be easy for us to get a bill introduced. The challenge is getting the bill passed. And there I've been realistic. What I said is that this is going to be a tough fight and that we're going to have to make sure that we are working as hard as we can to do it. I am not backing off one minute from getting this done….”


Mr. Boehner was up next. Again, the conversation about immigration started with the issue of the undocumented and health care.  Mr. Boehner was asked what the plan would be for the 12 million undocumented immigrants who would not be covered by the health care proposals being considered.  Mr. Boehner responded,


“The real answer here is that we need serious immigration reform. And this has been a very thorny issue for a long time. And I don't think any one political party or the other can solve it by themselves.”


But Mr. Boehner’s ideas about reform are not, um, serious.  He was asked, “would you consider the legalization of twelve million undocumented immigrants?”  His response:


“…enforcing the law has to be the first step in this process. There is a way to allow them to continue to work in the United States for a temporary period of time. And if they want to become citizens, they need to do what everybody else in the world does, and that's apply from their home countries.”


That prescription is not serious because we don’t have the legal channels to give entry to the immigrants who came here illegally, so going home and applying from the home country is equivalent to self deporting. 


Many of the immigrants who came in the ‘90s and the earlier part of this decade did not have special skills that would qualify for higher priority in our employment-based immigration system.  They fell into a category for which there were only 5,000 visas available per year.  Yet, when the economy was hot, we were taking in several hundred thousand of these immigrants per year.  It’s easy to grasp the impracticality of “getting in line” when you understand that the “line,” or wait that would develop after one year with this number of visas available would be approximately one human lifetime.


Neither Mr. Boehner nor the President has in hand a bill that would purport to fix our immigration system.  Mr. Obama has instructed his Secretary of Homeland Security to “start working up legislation.”  In other venues, Mr. Obama has been clear that regarding the undocumented, we have to find a way to bring them out of the shadows.  Mr. Boehner appears to endorse something that is not realistic: asking the 12 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom have been here for many years and have built a new life here—to leave the country.


As Mr. Ramos said in his interview with the President, Latinos are wondering whether “la promesa de Obama” will be kept.  Mr. Boehner didn’t even have a promise to offer.



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