Showing the kind of political instincts that have driven the Obama administration’s poll numbers into negative territory already, Janet Napolitano declared that she expects Congress to take up comprehensive immigration reform … in an election year.  Settling the legal status of illegal workers in a country suffering from double-digit unemployment already apparently qualifies as a higher priority than creating jobs and fixing the economy for people in the country legally for the DHS Secretary  — but as Jammie Wearing Fool notes, we’ll need the jail space after ObamaCare passes:

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano expressed confidence Friday that Congress would introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill in early 2010 and that debate and passage of the legislation could occur before the mid-term elections later that year.

A lot has changed since Congress last debated the issue in 2007, Napolitano asserted in a major policy speech at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC.

Yes, much has changed since the debacle of 2007, but not in the way Napolitano thinks.  The economy crashed, for one thing, throwing millions of citizens and legal residents out of work.  Legitimizing cheap labor isn’t exactly a great strategy to get those people working again, and suddenly making immigration reform a priority in the midst of a deep recession is going to go over like a lead balloon.

JWF half-jokes about the incongruity of threatening Americans with prison time for not buying health insurance while looking to give amnesty to illegal aliens, but that’s about as foolish a political combination as could possibly be imagined.  Are Democrats really more interested in enforcing criminal penalties for unconstitutional mandates to buy insurance than they are in enforcing legitimate immigration laws?  Because that’s what Napolitano suggests in her political prognostication.  You can bet that those mandates and their enforcement will form a core argument from Republicans against a push for amnesty — and that they’ll make sure to let Blue Dog district voters know which set of lawbreakers interest Democrats more.

That’s part of what makes a push for immigration reform so unlikely in an election year.  Obama may have been thinking that he could split Republicans in 2010 by pushing the issue, but few in the GOP will go along with amnesty or Amnesty Lite with unemployment in the US above 10%.  They will demand action on economic growth and tell the DHS to just do their jobs in enforcing immigration law.  And in 2010, many Americans will agree with that set of priorities — and wonder at the Democrats’ set — as they go to the polls.