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Published: Tuesday, 4/21/2009

Illegal tide

EARLIER this month, President Obama mounted up and rode another difficult subject - immigration reform - into the valley of potential political doom.

With an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States and 7 million of them employed, there is no question that reform is needed. Illegal immigrants absorb social services, sometimes don't pay taxes, and compete unfairly with legal immigrants and U.S. citizens for jobs.

The main argument against Mr. Obama biting into this piece of hot political pizza is that he is already neck-deep in problems: the slump in the economy, the continuing Iraq war, the escalating Afghanistan war, the costly and inefficient health-care system, deteriorating infrastructure, the sad state of education and, finally, a national debt - much of it owed abroad - spiraling upward as his programs to meet the nation's problems need to be financed.

Yet a solid argument says that if the new President, with the strong mandate that brought him to office, does not tackle these issues early in his term, while the tide is running his way, he never will get to them.

Immigration is one such problem. The worthy bill that former President George W. Bush put forward failed for lack of congressional support. Measures can be taken on the basis of existing laws to strengthen border controls and to oversee the actions of illegal immigrants through government cooperation with employers. These, however, continue to be inadequate.

Mr. Obama has proposed close, intensive discussions on the subject with all interested parties, followed by legislation to be introduced in the fall. Two major American labor organizations, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, have already promised support of his effort.

This time reform could work, and the President was entirely correct to put it on the agenda.

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