Yesterday, presidential candidate and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) praised the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a law passed by Arizona in 2007 that allows the state to either suspend or revoke the business licenses of state employers who knowingly or intentionally employ undocumented immigrants. “I applaud the United States Supreme Court in upholding Arizona’s right to do what the Federal government has failed to do and confront the problem of illegal immigration,” Pawlenty said. Curiously, Pawlenty also decided to go after Obama for breaking a campaign promise he made to address immigration:
President Obama broke his promise to address illegal immigration, leaving states and businesses in an untenable situation. As governor, I took aggressive steps towards better enforcement of illegal immigration, but ultimately we need a President who will be serious about fixing America’s immigration system.
Yet, perhaps Pawlenty forgot the specifics of Obama’s promise. In speech before the League of United Latin American Citizens in 2008, Obama pledged to make immigration “a top priority in my first year as President – not only because we have an obligation to secure our borders and get control of who comes in and out of our country…but because we have to finally bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows.” He told Univision anchor Jorge Ramos that he would reintroduce comprehensive immigration reform that puts undocumented immigrants on a path to legalization and creates a workable legal immigration system.
Clearly, that never happened, and a handful of Democratic lawmakers and immigration advocates are seeking to hold Obama accountable to his promises in an effort to alleviate some of the suffering in immigrant communities. Yet, for Pawlenty to start calling Obama out for failing to push through immigration reform without also holding his own party responsible comes off as pure political pandering.
Let’s revisit some of the reasons why immigration reform has failed to be introduced over the past three years. Obama always made clear that immigration reform stood in a line with health care reform, energy legislation, and financial regulatory changes and that at least a few Republicans are needed to pass a bill. Republicans responded by dragging out and attempting to block almost every single piece of legislation that Democrats put before them. After an unnecessarily long and nasty health care debate in 2009, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — the only Republican planning on co-sponsoring an immigration bill — pulled out, saying the “well has been poisoned.” Bipartisanship on immigration fizzled, and Republicans in Congress shifted their focus to things like ramping up deportations and overturning the 14th amendment to deny the American-born children of undocumented immigrants citizenship.
It’s unclear how Pawlenty would have handled all of this differently. He has avoided articulating any firm stance on immigration, other than stating the obvious: The immigration system “we currently have is broken” and that “the system needs to be legal and reasonable and orderly and that is not what we have now.”
His party’s platform on the issue though is pretty clear. The GOP’s Pledge to America makes no mention of immigration reform. Instead, it promises to secure the border, block the DREAM Act, and endorse Arizona’s approach to illegal immigration.