Obama plan for illegal immigrants: Want a job? Come on down!

President Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday sent a letter to members of Congress announcing the administration’s new immigration policy. The U.S. government will exercise “prosecutorial discretion” to end deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants who do not pose a threat to public safety or national security, which describes the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Administration officials said low-priority cases likely to be shelved include individuals brought to the U.S. as children by their parents, undocumented spouses of U.S. military personnel, and immigrants who have no criminal record.” Thus the administration conflates the two most sympathetic subsets of illegals with the vast majority of illegal immigrants who have not been convicted of any serious crime.

The administration has made clear that minor criminal convictions, such as motor vehicle violations, won’t trigger deportation. The government will not initiate proceedings against illegal aliens without criminal records who pose no threat to national security. And the New York Times quotes administration officials as saying that, “Those who qualify for relief can apply for permission to work in the United States and will probably receive it.”

The administration is thus implementing by executive order a policy it could not get Congress to adopt or even consider: amnesty for the millions of foreigners who entered the U.S. illegally or who overstayed their temporary visitor visas in order to work illegally in the U.S.

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It is also sending a clear message to people all over the world who would like to try their luck in the U.S., though ineligible to do so because of U.S. immigration law: U.S. immigration law won’t be enforced if all you want to do is work. Just get yourself into the U.S. by any means, don’t commit serious crimes or threaten national security, and you will be able to compete with U.S. citizens for jobs. And since you’re willing to work for lower wages and under worse conditions than U.S. citizens, you can probably beat them out for a job. So come on in!

Why is President Obama doing this in the midst of a historic recession with record numbers of American workers unemployed and looking for work? Is there an election coming, or what?

The Wall Street Journal explains that, “The immigration issue is a critical one for Mr. Obama as he prepares for reelection.” Although he won 67% of the Hispanic vote in 2008, he “needs Latinos to turn out in large numbers.” The New York Times reports that the new immigration policy will “bolster President Obama’s reputation with Latino voters as he heads into the 2012 election.”

It creates a dilemma, though, for those of us who have been waiting for President Obama to put forward a jobs plan for unemployed Americans. Where’s that jobs plan?

On the immigration issue, as in the re-election campaign itself, President Obama benefits from the dearth of credible Republican alternatives. Romney is too boring, and Bachmann and Perry too extreme, and they all have murky positions on illegal immigration, and ties to the business community which strongly supports the unrestricted entry of low-wage immigrants into the U.S.

The Republican candidates keep defending the policies of George W. Bush, who like President Obama advocated amnesty for illegal immigrants. They keep comparing themselves to Ronald Reagan who actually signed into law the biggest amnesty for illegal immigrants in American history.

So President Obama’s new, generous, and numerically unlimited immigration policy may turn out to be a net winner for him in his 2012 reelection campaign—unless a Republican challenger appears who can articulate an alternative immigration policy of strict enforcement of immigration law in order to deter illegal immigration and protect American workers from low-wage immigrant competition.

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