Last week’s news that Senators Schumer and Graham met with President Obama about immigration reform would have been a whole lot better if they had all committed themselves to actually rolling up their sleeves and getting to the hard work of introducing a bill, rather than just talking about one.
True, the President reaffirmed his “unwavering” commitment to comprehensive immigration reform. But he didn’t actually commit the Administration to doing anything about it at this time. Rather, Obama’s carefully worded statement made clear that he will not likely do anything about the broken immigration system until it is politically feasible. As it stands now Congress is embroiled in a nasty partisan fight over health care reform, and not likely to be receptive to an immigration overhaul as the November election nears. As the President’s sagging poll numbers show, he has already spent a tremendous amount of political capital trying to get health care passed, and, as the New York Times pointed out Saturday in its editorial, his depleted account may not have enough capital left to support fixing the dysfunctional immigration system which burdens the nation. http://nyti.ms/bgVv9b
So, is CIR off the table this year? Well, not exactly. It could still happen if the American people demand it—meaning Congress could still move on CIR if it is in their political self interest to do so. That’s where the President’s statement was interesting. Referring to his meetings on Thursday he said, “I also heard from a diverse group of grassroots leaders from around the country about the growing coalition that is working to build momentum for this critical issue. I am optimistic that their efforts will contribute to a favorable climate moving forward.” In other words, an overhaul of the broken immigration system could happen if there is an organized grass roots effort which translates into votes. And, thankfully, that may be happening across the nation. Next week, on Sunday March 21, thousands are expected to demand immigration reform at a rally in Washington. Hopefully, it will be the beginning of the “momentum” which the politicians, including President Obama, need to get moving on immigration reform. Obama’s political calculus must include the millions of Latino voters who came out so heavily for him in 2008. It is critical that the coalition of business, labor, religious organizations and others work toward building and maintaining the “momentum” beyond March 21. This country cannot continue to tolerate an immigration system that prevents American businesses from competing globally, exploits and criminalizes undocumented workers, and permits the deaths of 107 immigrant detainees in ICE custody since 2003.
Some say we should back away from a comprehensive solution toward a more targeted or piecemeal approach. The argument is that if we can’t get Congress to pass CIR then we would be better off supporting individual provisions that may have a better chance of passage standing alone. In my view, this is ill advised and short sighted. If the justification for abandoning support for CIR in favor of targeted immigration legislation is because the political climate in Washington will not support a comprehensive fix, it should be remembered that piecemeal legislation attracts the same amount of venom from the anti-immigrant restrictionists as does a full immigration reform package. Remember when the Senate tried to pass the Dream Act? If there is going to be a nasty fight for immigration reform, it might as well be for a comprehensive bill.
Others, including myself, worry that any immigration reform, especially one that includes a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, will exact a very high price with the inclusion of heavy handed enforcement provisions. Most recently, it is rumored that Senators Schumer and Graham are considering including a requirement that all Americans carry a biometric social security card to prove their ability to work lawfully in the U.S. AILA has rightfully expressed serious privacy concerns over such a proposal. And there have been rumors of other, more onerous, proposals. But all this talk is hypothetical until Schumer and Graham set pen to paper and offer a bill that we can read, digest, and analyze.
I think the low moment of last week’s immigration meeting was Senator Graham’s partisan message that immigration “could come to a halt for the year if health care reconciliation goes forward.” It is patently unfair to the American people, particularly business and families, to hold immigration reform hostage to health care. The American people sent these officials to Washington to get something done, not to create obstacles to fashioning a forward focused immigration policy designed to keep America competitive into the 21st Century.
As President Obama said last week when campaigning for health care reform, “the time to talk is over”.