Valerie Jarrett, one of President Barack Obama’s top deputies, said Tuesday that immigration reform would be as important to the country’s future as Obamacare.
“It will be a landmark piece of legislation,” she told a videotaped meeting of progressive allies in a building alongside the White House.
“Together with the Affordable Care Act — two major pieces of legislation — that when we look back 50 years from now, I think we will all just be extremely proud,” said Jarrett.
Jarrett’s close relationship to Obama was underlined by her repeated use of the first-person plural. “We are confident that with everybody making [immigration] a priority, it will in fact pass, and we will sign it into law,” she said.
Jarrett’s pairing of Obamacare and immigration echoes her critics, who say the immigration rewrite is an effort by Democrats to gain political supremacy by adding tens of millions of Democrat-leaning immigrants to election rolls after 2020.
“Politically, pairing them in her mind suggests that the administration sees both pieces of administration as transformative,” said Mark Krikorian, a noted critic of immigration and the director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
The two measures are very different from routine laws on spending or regulating the environment, which “are all matters of mundane management of a country’s affairs,” he said.
Instead, Obamacare and increased immigration are “ways of fundamentally changing the United States so that it will not be like our country before Obama was elected, which has always been his goal,” he said.
The Senate bill, which was approved in July, could double immigration rates to add 46 million foreigners by 2033, and give the federal government more control over companies’ labor supply. House leaders say they want to pass a major bill but have not released details.
Obamacare is also transformative. It pushes 310 million Americans to rely on federally-managed health care services, giving the central government more ability to favor or disfavor Americans’ once-private preferences that are related to their health.
Jarrett’s pairing of the two bills also contradicts efforts by Republican leaders to focus the GOP’s base on the existing Obamacare law, and to divert the base away from the closed-door, bipartisan efforts to pass an immigration rewrite, Krikorian said.
“Without realizing it [Jarrett] is probably doing a favor to opponents of amnesty because [Rep.] Paul Ryan and other Republicans are trying to distract attention from immigration by focusing attention on Obamacare,” said Krikorian.
“Valerie is bringing everyone back to the connection of the two,” Krikorian said.
Jarrett, a progressive who lived overseas until aged 13, also described the immigration bill as a gain for a progressive version of civil rights. She ignored its economic impact on individual Americans’ wages and employment prospects.
The immigration bill is important because “it gets back to civil rights,” she said.
“We talked about women, we talked about people from the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community, we talked about people of different colors, and making sure that this is still a nation of laws and of immigrants, is extremely important to the health of our country,” she said.
Since 2000, the native-born population has grown by 16 million, the population of employed immigrants has grown by 5.3 million “and yet there are fewer Americans working now than in 2000,” said Krikorian. “How long do we have to wait?” he asked.
Advocates who support an immigration rewrite say it will increase the overall size of the nation’s population and economy, and boost revenue to the federal government. “It will make us stronger. … It will strengthen our economy … [and] that is good for our country,” said Jarrett.
The two Obama priorities are also connected by Obamacare regulations, which offer health-care subsidies to foreign guest-workers at U.S. companies. The Senate immigration bill would boost the resident population of blue-collar and professional-class guest workers to roughly 2 million.
Jarrett also reminded her listeners that the additional immigrants will get to vote in future elections.
“We need to make sure that people who came here illegally … have a path to citizenship,” she said, prompting applause from the audience of progressive activists.
Jarrett indicated that the White House would resume its pressure for passage of an immigration law once the August recess ends and GOP legislators fly from their constituents back into Washington, D.C.
“You will be hearing a lot more about immigration reform as we have continued to amp this up over the course of the second term, and we are confident that with everybody making it a priority, it will in fact pass, and we will sign it into law,” she said.
The White House will pressure the GOP’s leadership to schedule votes on immigration, she said.
“Immigration reform is a top priority for President Obama,” she said. “We were very heartened to see a comprehensive immigration bill voted out of the Senate and we will continue to put pressure on encouraging the House to understand how important it is for them to respond as well.”