No federal policy shift under President Obama will be more important to California than what he does on illegal immigration. This will have more long-term significance to the nation’s biggest state than even the now-taken-for-granted reversal of George W. Bush’s refusal to allow enforcement of California’s landmark greenhouse gas emission limits on cars and trucks.So what does Obama plan on illegal immigration, which some Californians blame for the state’s budget mess and many of its other ills?For a clue, it helps to look at the website his staff put on the Internet almost instantaneously after he took the oath of office in January, www.whitehouse.gov.The immigration agenda outlined there bears an ironically strong resemblance to bills co-sponsored in the past by Obama’s 2008 election rival, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. The statement accompanying his loosely-outlined proposals also echoes McCain.”For too long, politicians in Washington have exploited the immigration issue to divide the nation rather than find real solutions,” Obama says. “Our broken immigration system can only be fixed by putting politics aside and offering a complete solution that secures our border, enforces our laws and reaffirms our heritage as a national of immigrants.”Nothing there about assuring farmers and other employers of an adequate army of ultra-cheap laborers, but that is implicit, just as it was in the immigration reform bills that failed in Congress last year and in 2007. For nothing is more important to the industries that hire illegals than keeping their workers here. In the case of farms, especially in California’s Central Valley, when the number of illegal immigrant workers begins to dwindle, the amount of fruits left hanging on trees and vines skyrockets, not to mention cotton and other crops left to rot in fields. That’s not a problem this year, with recession making surplus labor available, but it will be again whenever the overall job market recovers.So the key part of the Obama proposal is his call to “bring people out of the shadows.” He says he will “support a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.” In short, amnesty.Illegals already in this country would be allowed to stay, with legal standing allowing their employers to escape any sanctions.At the same time, the Obama stance offers some satisfaction to the get-tough-on-illegals faction. He would, his website says, “support additional personnel, infrastructure and technology on the border and at our ports of entry.”That means the almost-completed “wall” along the Mexican border will not be coming down soon, even though Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano didn’t care for it when she was governor of Arizona. The Obama statement also implies more electronics will be added to intercept illegal crossings along the most rural stretches of the border. And it means even more Border Patrol officers to supplement the almost 5,000 added under Bush.Plus, Obama advocates a tougher crackdown on employers of newly arrived illegals in an effort to eliminate incentives for undocumented border crossings. To further lessen incentives, he proposes working with Mexico to beef up that country’s economy, now in an even worse recession than America’s.Put these stances together and they could add up to a compromise immigration bill with a real chance for congressional passage. With a 58-seat Democratic majority that may soon become 59 (if Democrat Al Franken’s current narrow lead over Republican Norm Coleman in Minnesota ends up becoming official) and several Republicans, including McCain, having long backgrounds in support of similar compromises, it’s hard to see how this could be killed by a filibuster, the way similar bills previously were.Even before any such bill comes near a vote, there will be another battle over reauthorization of the current E-verify system, which Bush required all businesses with federal contracts to use in order to confirm their new employees have legal standing. The system matches photos of legal workers to legitimate Social Security numbers, aiming to prevent job applicants from using fake identification.E-verify should get a boost from unemployment numbers, which are at a 25-year peak and might rise further if E-verify disappears and it again becomes easier to hire illegals.At the same time, several Hispanic voter groups that backed Obama strongly are now urging him to move quickly to end raids where immigrants not named in warrants are questioned by federal agents and to end a federal program encouraging local police to perform immigration checks.Every one of these items has large meaning for California, where a compromise immigration bill combining amnesty and enforcement with a strictly-managed guest worker program would likely cause the least economic disruption and come closest to making all sides at least somewhat happy.
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