Zero-Sum Immigration Policy?

Anyone hoping to hear a more conciliatory speech than the inaugural address must have been disappointed to hear an equally argumentative President deliver this year???s State of the Union Address.   Oblivious to a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the president ticked off a laundry list of lofty progressive goals that are sure to placate his liberal base, but have little chance of being signed into law.

Add immigration reform to the list unless the president drops his insistence on dealing with immigration policy in one gargantuan comprehensive bill.

The president was right to talk about ways of streamlining legal immigration by reducing bureaucracy, but lumping in citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers in a singular stand-alone bill will surely make the task more difficult where he knows even members of his own party are reluctant to vote in favor a bill that undermines the rule of law.  (See Senate Democrats up for reelection next year in states that voted for Mitt Romney in last year???s presidential election).

Consequently, policymakers need only look to Obamacare as an example of why Congress should consider a piecemeal approach and resist the urge to write another 1,000 page plus bill with numerous unintended consequences that will only compel lawmakers to make changes to existing law.

The truth is that the President could find support in both chambers and by members of both parties on a number of specific policy proposals that also have the support of the American people.  A good example of this would be our need for high-skilled immigrants in order to fill high-skilled jobs.

To that end, just before the last Congress adjourned for the year, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed the STEM Jobs Act that would have eliminated the diversity visa program and would have reallocated up to 55,000 green cards to immigrant graduates of American universities with advanced degrees in science and technology with a vote of 245-139.  Senate Democrats blocked the STEM Jobs Act and the White House opposed the legislation on the grounds that: ???it does not meet the President???s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform.???

Statements like this seem to suggest that the President may be more motivated by politics than looking to find consensus on this important issue.  As Senator Chuck Schumer said at a recent breakfast hosted by Politico, there are some in his party that want to continue keeping immigration on the table as a wedge issue for political gain.

The president should reject these partisan calls and exert leadership in order to find agreement where he is able, instead of doing nothing at all.

This zero-sum approach is a disservice to our country of immigrants that is revitalized every time a naturalization ceremony takes place.  We desperately need to take meaningful steps to improve our immigration system so that it works effectively and allows for increased legal immigration while discouraging illegal immigration.

In the months that follow as immigration debate moves center stage, let???s hope that the President is able to rise above petty politics and defy members of his own party to do the right thing for our country.

Israel Ortega is the Editor of ??? the Spanish language page of The Heritage Foundation and is a frequent contributor to Spanish language media outlets.