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Is immigration reform likely to happen now?

With President Obama’s victory powered in part by overwhelming support from Latino voters, and a dawning if grudging recognition from the GOP that they can’t continue to alienate this growing segment of the electorate, some kind of deal on immigration reform seems increasingly likely. I still have my doubts, however.

Prominent voices in both parties say immigration was the issue that pushed Hispanic voters away from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and that coming to the middle on the sticky subject is important to winning their support.

“It’s not the main issue with Latinos, but it is the core issue that allows a candidate to either be friendly or unfriendly to the Latino population as a whole,” said Lionel Sosa, a San Antonio Republican consultant who has worked on a number of high-profile campaigns, including Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid and the campaigns of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Latinos’ top issues tend to be things like education, jobs and opportunity, Sosa said.

“If you have a strident, tough immigration policy that seems unfriendly, then it’s very hard to get Latinos to listen to you about anything else,” he said. “If you’re saying that young Latinos who lived here most of their lives … cannot stay, then you are saying, ‘Latino, I don’t really want you around.’”

Obama’s decision to grant temporary work permits to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants in the country illegally, a program announced this summer called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, helped make up for his broken promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform, Sosa said.

That position was bolstered this week when Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group released a poll that found 77 percent of Latino voters support deferred action.

[…]

The election results apparently have emboldened Democrats. On Wednesday, Obama predicted an immigration overhaul will happen in his second term.

Not all Republicans are convinced. In a statement this week, House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, downplayed the importance of immigration to Hispanic voters.

“The issues of primary importance to Hispanic voters are the economy and jobs,” he said. “The Republican Party needs to make inroads with Hispanic voters by emphasizing our shared interests in job creation and economic growth.

“Hispanics should be treated as the patriotic, values-oriented, and family-minded Americans that they are.”

And Lord knows, if there’s anyone who knows how to treat Hispanics respectfully it’s Lamar Smith, am I right? The reason to be skeptical of anything happening on this front is because there’s still a lot of Lamar Smiths in the GOP, and they’re not interesting in making a deal. Sure, I could be wrong about this, but I’ll believe there’s a reasonable compromised to be reached when I see it.

The good news for Republicans come in the form of rising Hispanic stars like Texas’ Sen.-elect Ted Cruz, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, and George P. Bush, a nephew of former President George W. Bush who’s said to be considering a run for land commissioner, Sosa said.

Cruz “is our best hope for turning it around, and it’s really primarily up to him in Texas,” Sosa said. “If he carries the banner for fair immigration policies, he could be the leader.”

Um, Lionel? Cruz advocates building a border wall and opposes the DREAM Act, any pathway to citizenship, and the President’s deferred action policy. I hate to tell you this, Lionel, but on matters of immigration Ted Cruz is the problem, not the solution.

There is now a Republican alternative to the DREAM Act out there, but it falls short of the original in some key areas.

According to the Daily Caller, the version would include several steps including applying first for a W-1 visa status, which would allow undocumented youth to attend college or serve in the military. Afterwards, they would be eligible to apply for a four-year non-immigrant work visa dubbed the W-2 visa.

In the next step, they would apply for a permanent visa known as W-3 visa status. As a final resolution, after an undeclared number of years, citizenship “could follow.”

For some DREAM Act advocates, a version that doesn’t offer a pathway to citizenship is a deal breaker.

“As undocumented youth, we will not take anything less than a direct path to citizenship. This is the country we call home and we will assert this position as we move forward,” according to a statement released by Cesar Vargas of the DREAM Action Coalition.

The alternative version would allow undocumented youth to apply if they entered the United States before the age of 14 and no older than 28. It would also require them to attend college or join the military, show good moral standing and keep a felony-free criminal record. That includes no more than one misdemeanor with jail time of more than 30 days.

Yet, Vargas noted in his statement several glitches. He noted that for Dreamers who are interested in serving the country, “the W-1 status does not currently let someone join the military voluntarily, so unless they also amend 10 U.S.C § 504 to allow such persons to enlist, the ACHIEVE Act won’t help much.”

Without a pathway to citizenship, the problem isn’t solved. A bill that leaves the status of millions of people unresolved is not a solution. But at least now there’s a starting point for negotiation, which is more than we’ve had the past couple of years.

This issue should be front and center until a real reform bill gets passed. It doesn’t matter to me if people like Lamar Smith and Ted Cruz see the light and become part of the solution or keep digging their heels in and get run over by reality, as long as the problem gets solved in a humane, compassionate, and forward-thinking fashion. And here’s a reminder from the Spanish-language media that there’s still more to this issue than what’s currently on the table.

A Nov. 8 editorial in Philadelphia’s Spanish-language newspaper Al Día, for example, looks at the limits of the Obama administration’s achievements, from health care to deferred action.

Al Día’s post-election editorial questions “why undocumented immigrants have been wholly precluded from purchasing — with their own money — coverage from insurers in your plan … Further, we wonder why undocumented young adults who are granted deferred action will not be given the ability to purchase health insurance from ACA pools either.”

Have you ever wondered why the Affordable Care Act will still leave millions of people without access to health insurance? It’s because undocumented immigrants and their children were deliberately left out of it. I really don’t expect that problem to be solved at this time, but until it is we can’t truly say we have accomplished immigration reform.

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