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Obama Pushes Ahead With Immigration Reform -- Here's the Good, Bad and the Ugly

Will this be the break-through moment for comprehensive reform?

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On Tuesday, Barack Obama flew to Nevada, where one in five residents is foreign-born, to once again call for comprehensive immigration reform – a centrist approach to a nagging problem that's been demagogued by the conservative media as “amnesty” and blocked by nativists in Congress for almost a decade.

Obama's speech offered some sharp elbows for Congress's nativist wing, and some hope for those in his very supportive audience. But Obama's optimism belied two potentially serious problems for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in this country: one political and one inherent in the nuts and bolts of policy.

In Washington, there's renewed hope that in the wake of Republicans' second electoral drubbing among Latinos and Asian-Americans, there will finally be an opportunity to get a set of real reforms through Congress. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, has been imploring conservatives to rethink their embrace of “self-deportation” and back a measure that would provide some kind of mechanism for undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows.

And last week, a bipartisan group of eight Senators – including Rubio and fellow Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain and Jeff Flake from Arizona – laid out a set of broad principles that might inform the legislative process.

Obama largely endorsed the still-undefined senate deal even as he revealed his own, more detailed proposals. But the larger purpose of the speech was to isolate and sideline anti-immigration hard-liners on Capitol Hill. “I’m here today because the time has come for common sense, comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “The time is now.”

He talked about the public's support for a comprehensive fix, and warned of America losing her competitive edge as highly-skilled migrants take their education and return home to put it to use. “Intel was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here,” he said. “Instagram was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here. Right now in one of those classrooms, there’s a student wrestling with how to turn their big idea, their Intel or Instagram, into a big business.”

Obama noted that there appears to be a rare bit of consensus emerging on the issue. “At this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon, and that’s very encouraging,” he said. “But this time, action must follow. We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate.”

“The ideas I’m proposing have traditionally been supported by both Democrats, like Ted Kennedy, and Republicans, like President George W. Bush,” said Obama, before adding a laugh-line: “You don’t get that match-up very often.”

He then promised: “If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.”

He reminded his audience that we are indeed a nation of immigrants, a fact that seems to drive hard-liners nuts. “It’s really important for us to remember history,” he said. “Unless you’re one of the first Americans, a Native American, you came from some place else, somebody brought you.”

The substance of the president's proposals aren't revolutionary. They track with previous comprehensive fixes dating back to the McCain-Kennedy bill back in 2007. For liberal immigration advocates, there is a path to “earned” citizenship, and an expedited process for “Dreamers” – children brought here illegally by their parents – if they go to college or serve two years in the military.