Obama Misses a Texas-Sized Opportunity on Immigration

President Obama speaking in San Antonio

We’ve entered an interesting time in American politics when a Democrat can flog a Republican with the issue of illegal immigration. For years, conservative politicians have used it to call their opponents “open borders liberals.”

President Obama, during his visits to San Antonio and Austin this week, slammed the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney for saying Arizona’s harsh immigration crackdown “could be a model for the nation.” Cue the boos from Texas Democrats. “I believe we are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” he said. Cue the cheers.

That’s some good partisan politicking right there, but the president missed out on a chance to show how truly out of step Romney is.

Mr. Obama was speaking here in Texas, where the Republican-dominated legislature rejected about a 100 Arizona-style immigration bills last year, we continue to extend college tuition breaks to undocumented students, and the Texas Republican Party now embraces a guest worker program.

On that last point, I’ll give the president the benefit of the doubt and assume that no one told him the Texas Republican Party, the largest state GOP, recently adopted a softer stance on immigration.

During an intense debate on the floor of the party’s convention in Ft. Worth, Texas General Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson made a straightforward economic argument.  “Employers today have difficulty in finding folks who have construction skills, who show up on time and consistently do a good days work,” Patterson said. “We have a shortage in these trades and it’s hurting our economy.”

Patterson and those at the convention who agreed with him carried the day and the Texas GOP now supports granting work visas to undocumented immigrants. It isn’t “amnesty,” which is possibly the most abused word in conservative politics. The “Texas Solution” to immigration reform is a law-based, practical solution that would mean many workers could come out of the shadows and stop living in the cash economy.

“It’s the first progressive plank in our platform in a long time,” said former Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Neerman. “I have always argued that we treat immigration differently in TX from other border states,” he said, pointing to the way California’s governor refused education benefits to undocumented immigrants back in the 1990’s. “Texas never would have done that. We should get credit, not blame, for in-state tuition.”

The problem is that in our current political climate, politicians on neither side feel they can ever give even the smallest bit of credit to the other side for anything they’ve done that makes sense.

If President Obama had used at least part of his visit to the Great State to praise Texas Republicans for their rejection of Arizona-style laws or their embrace of a guest worker program, how far would that go to show that Mitt Romney is simply wrong when it comes to this issue?

It would have been good politics and good policy. Imagine that.

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