It's beginning to look, however, that the president isn't going to be given that breathing space. Pressure on another front, immigration reform, is beginning to grow, and that pressure is coming not just from immigration rights advocates.
The Arizona legislature has just passed a terrible bill which essentially requires all immigrants, legal or not, to carry their "papers" with them at all times. The Los Angeles Times published a fairly sensible (for the center left board) editorial decrying the bill and urges the Arizona governor to veto it. The editorial also, however, identifies what I think is a good analysis of what lay behind the bill:
...it is the state's way of expressing frustration with the federal government and preparing itself for the comprehensive federal immigration reform residents fear is coming. In the eyes of many Arizonans, any new law granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants will open a floodgate into their backyard.
Arizona's new legislation is terribly wrongheaded, but the state's sense of abandonment by Washington is not something the rest of us can shrug off. Congress must find the courage to create a policy that sensibly regulates the flow of immigration.
Unfortunately, the editorial board mucked up its argument with the same kind of wrongheadedness that led to the bill. The editorial works with an underlying assumption that is just not accurate, as this article from the NY Times reveals.
According to a new analysis of census data, more than half of the working immigrants in this metropolitan area [St. Louis] hold higher-paying white-collar jobs — as professionals, technicians or administrators — rather than lower-paying blue-collar and service jobs.
... In 14 of the 25 largest metropolitan areas, including Boston, New York and San Francisco, more immigrants are employed in white-collar occupations than in lower-wage work like construction, manufacturing or cleaning.
The data belie a common perception in the nation’s hard-fought debate over immigration — articulated by lawmakers, pundits and advocates on all sides of the issue — that the surge in immigration in the last two decades has overwhelmed the United States with low-wage foreign laborers.
Over all, the analysis showed, the 25 million immigrants who live in the country’s largest metropolitan areas (about two-thirds of all immigrants in the country) are nearly evenly distributed across the job and income spectrum.
“The United States is getting a more varied and economically important flow of immigrants than the public seems to realize,” said David Dyssegaard Kallick, director for immigration research at the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonpartisan group in New York that conducted the data analysis for The New York Times.
Now, I fully understand that for reasons of geography Arizona, Texas, and California have to deal with the flow of a lot of unskilled laborers coming from Mexico and Central America. They aren't getting too many fashion designers or engineers or surgeons sneaking across the border. Even so, that doesn't mean that those who come are necessarily stealing jobs from the locals and availing themselves of social services.
Americans are inclined to welcome upper-tier immigrants ... believing they contribute to economic growth without burdening public services, the study found. More than 60 percent of Americans are opposed to allowing more low-skilled foreign laborers, regarding them as more likely to be a drag on the economy.
Those kinds of views, in turn, have informed recent efforts by Congress to remake the immigration system. A measure unveiled last month by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, aims to reshape the legal system to give priority to high-skilled, high-earning immigrants, offering narrower channels for low-wage workers. (A bill in 2007 by the Bush administration tilted even more sharply toward upper-tier immigrants; it failed in Congress.)
Yet while visa bottlenecks persist for high-skilled immigrants, on the whole, the census data show, the current system has brought a range of foreign workers across skill and income levels. The analysis suggests, moreover, that the immigrants played a central role in the cycle of the economic growth of cities over the last two decades.
Cities with thriving immigrant populations — with high-earning and lower-wage workers — tended to be those that prospered the most. [Emphasis added]
The studies referenced by the NY Times certainly don't tell us anything new, they just substantiate what is actually going on. They challenge the assumptions that immigrants, especially those from poor countries, are a drag on America.
And here's the important part: such articles and, yes, editorials are essential if the American public is to be served a healthy dose of reality. That's the job of the press, and in these two cases the press did it jobs well.
So, President Obama: put your seat belt back on. It looks like you're going to have to follow through on your campaign promise to get a decent and reasonable immigration reform bill passed a little sooner than you would have liked.