Immigration Reform: What’s Next?

It is safe to say any perceived progress toward comprehensive immigration reform came to a dead-stop the minute the Democrat-heavy U.S. Senate gave away some high-dollar, high-collateral items to the Republicans to gain their support for Senate Bill 744. The House Republicans not only sensed blood, they sucked it right up and made themselves political dead wood on the issue–with no reason to move, no reason to care. It’s hard to believe that soon after President Obama’s re-election, immigration reform was the top issue for him and “Latino outreach” became the task of Republicans. So much for that.

President Obama has been using the last five years to “prove himself” as an immigration enforcer to gain Republican votes in Congress. He’s funded and bolstered programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities to the point of throwing out almost 2,000,000 immigrants from the United States–a large portion being low-level offenders who didn’t even fit these programs’ description of “criminal immigrant.” And he and Congress have also bolstered detention policies and the private prisons who warehouse these folks. How’d that work out? Certainly not  well for the broken families affected by these policies.

Some of my lib-lab friends utilize the talking points well:  It’s the Republicans! I don’t argue that fact, but when it comes to deportation, it is President Obama who holds the keys to the deportation bus.

Certainly, Republicans knew exactly what President Obama was doing since they didn’t budge at all on the House side. If anything, the issue may still figure prominently in 2014 elections as Republican primary candidates try to out-hate each other on the issue. What will the Democratic campaign response be in 2014?

And while the national pro-migrant organizations (LULAC, NCLR and others) kept their talking points intact, all the while while turning their collective cheek to the mass deportations, mass human warehousing, and general indifference of both sides of the aisle, it was the immigrant-activist community whose message seemed to be strengthening:  Stop the deportations. The question that goes unanswered is if there is agreement on taking anything less than a path to citizenship.

According to the latest Pew Hispanic Center polling, 55% of Hispanics now favor deportation relief over a shot at citizenship. Given that Hispanics make up 3/4 of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, this is a significant trend. And according to the experts at Pew, it is this trend that could cause a major shift in the immigration debate–one that could allow piecemeal legislation and other compromises. That’s if the Republicans don’t feel the need to try to milk the issue for what it is worth to them in the GOP primaries.

According to Cesar Vargas of the DREAM Action Coalition, a piecemeal approach is what is going to happen.

Walking away with nothing is not an option for us; “citizenship-or-nothing” is not an option. We can’t ask our communities to wait for “citizenship” while we see our mothers, our fathers being separated from their children. Citizenship is our ultimate goal but we cannot let it become a hardline that poisons bipartisanship.

This year we have a real opportunity to secure our first victory; a victory that will allow us to live and work freely, to travel and see our family members we left behind. Rest assure the next day, we will be ready to work and fight for the next victory, including a path to citizenship. Let’s, however, get our first win 2014.

Ultimately, a piecemeal package may not spell political victory for either political party.

If the immigration bill dies, a plurality of Hispanics (43%) and Asian Americans (48%) say they would mostly blame Republicans in Congress. But sizable minorities of each group—34% of Hispanics and 29% of Asian Americans—say they would hold Democrats in Congress and/or President Obama mainly responsible.

I would think that simple deportation stops wouldn’t give an edge to either Party at this point. Political promises and niceties from both political parties have failed as campaign tactics, given Hispanic numbers tanking for President Obama and achieving new lows for Republicans. For those Hispanics who continue to have faith in their vote, or perhaps aren’t single issue voters (folks like me), I’m sure they will continue to be engaged at some level. But breaking down immigration reform (and the Hispanic community) to the point of accepting only deportation relief is concerning–at least for folks like me.

To me, there is nothing more important than citizenship–the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Although it is understandable that those who live in the shadows and fear detention and deportation want some sort of relief, I fear the formation of, for lack of a better term, a legalized sub-class of people will only be detrimental to our democracy. Sure, it may be a boon to our tax system at all levels, and to our economy, but eleven million people in a tax-paying, non-voting class all to themselves does not help further public policy that benefits our country, our states, and our local governments. If anything, it allows those who make the rules (on both sides of the aisle) to run roughshod over these folks–and any other group with a similar demographic make-up, yet, are citizens and voters.

Unfortunately, President Obama has now given a tentative “OK” to a piecemeal approach that the Republicans have been pushing, and the pro-migrant, national Latino groups will soon follow or get out of the way. Given the image of victory will be those groups led by immigrants who are asking for deportation relief, while Republican politicians will say, “Well, we’re just doing what they asked for.” In other words, Republicans will support anything but citizenship if they were to go along with this. That’s the even bigger question:  Will Republicans go along with it? Or will Tea Party bigotry be the victor, again?

I’ve been writing about immigration reform since I started this blog. My entire intent was not to become an “immigration blogger,” but what made me driven as a supporter of immigration reform was that citizenship was the end-game. At this point, deportation relief may bring a sigh of relief to a certain extent–depending on what the parties agree to–but a lack of a path to citizenship and whatever else the Republicans tack on which will limit the rights of this new legalized sub-class is not a workable solution, in my opinion. Some will call it a step toward citizenship (to be achieved in another 10? 20 years?), but what is the reality? How will the private prison and jail industry be appeased? And how will local law enforcement agencies who defend 287(g) and SCOMM move forward? There are a lot of unanswered questions as to how “deportation relief” will be defined in the end.

So, a new question is being asked:  Will we have something in 2014?

It’s hard to tell when even Professor Larry Sabato stated on CNN that this issue was a big loser in 2013 and that he didn’t expect much movement on it in 2014. And neither does my favorite policy guy, Robert Reich. Pro-reform Republicans, too. 

Obviously, we need to keep an eye on things. And, ultimately, the “pro-migrant” side needs to get its message straight so the rest of us know what we’re supposed to support.

Aura Bogado has a cool Prezi at Alternet about what happened in 2013.

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