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Will The 2012 Elections Lead To Immigration Reform?

July 10, 2011

2012 Election Dynamics And The Push For Immigration Reform

Once again, immigration reform is in the news.

Based on comments from pro-immigration reform and the anti-immigration reform representatives, it seems nothing has changed since the last effort to pass immigration reform measures.

That’s on the surface.

Behind the scenes, there has been a lot of activity.  How these changes affect the outcome in this round of political debate remains to be determined.

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011

Two weeks ago, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011.

He called the new bill a “beefed-up” piece of legislation aimed at winning the support of Republican Senators who feel tougher border security is the first and foremost key to any immigration measures.

Menendez was joined by Harry Reid (D-NV), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), John Kerry (D-MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) as co-sponsors.

In addition to strengthening border security and worksite enforcement, the bill includes a requirement that undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. register with the government as part of their path to permanent residence and naturalization.

As a green card and citizenship lawyer, I have serious reservations over how, and for what purposes, such a registration program woud work.

On the other hand, the bill also includes provisions related to the DREAM Act for immigrant youth and the Agricultural Jobs Act for immigrant farmworkers, both of which are long overdue and necessary.

The Rise Of The Tequila Party

In terms of the immigration debate, the biggest political event over the past few months has been the uprising of the Tequila Party. Based on widespread disenchantment with President Obama and the Democratic Party, many Hispanics have opted to create and support an independent, immigration-based mechanism for the next election.

The political neglect of Latinos by the Democratic Party is not new. For years, Hispanics have tolerated empty promises regarding immigration and other issues important to them.  It was inevitable the neglect would lead to conflict. That time is now.

When Democrats controlled both Houses a few years ago, the opportunity was ripe for immigration reform. Yet, the Democratic Party kept putting it off for one reason after another. Now, having lost their numerical advantages, party leaders, including the President are blaming the Republican Party for failure to pass immigration reform.

Such political gamesmanship, however, is not working on immigration supporters this time. As a result, the Obama machine has started to reach out to Hispanics, albeit in a half-hearted way, avoiding his critics while trying to persuade less informed voters that his party is not at fault.

The Tequila Party is having none of it.

Will Republicans Support Immigration Reform?

For those opposed to immigration reform, the “new reform” is more of the same “old reform.” In their view, reform means amnesty. Their approach to immigration reform is simple: law enforcement and border security first, second, and third.

In many states, despite Arizona’s failure to succeed in federal courts, GOP leaders continue to push for more restrictive measures against undocumented immigrants and their families.

Based on these types of actions, some observers, especially Democratic Party sympathizers, assert Republicans are the real obstacle to immigration reform.

Even though all the sponsors of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011 are Democrats, Menendez said, “The reality is, electorally, Republicans cannot continue to take positions they’ve taken [on immigration] and win.” He added that some Republicans have privately indicated their willingness to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform.

As a Riverside immigration attorney, I sense Republican opportunities to court Hispanics, predominantly Democratic-leaning voters, have never been greater.

Most Tequila Party members believe only bipartisan support will lead to immigration reform.

On the contrary, fearing the backlash, Democrats argue a vote for the GOP will put the issue of immigration reform in greater jeopardy.

Will Obama Support Immigration Reform?

The problem with the Democratic Party assertions, as noted in Does President Obama Have The Political Courage Necessary For Immigration Reform?, is the President’s conspicuous silence on pro-immigration measures.

For instance, as various states have followed Arizona’s approach to enact strict immigration measures, Obama has not engaged them in battle.  If the President asserted leadership, immigrant communities could see him as their advocate. His unwillingness to get involved says volumes about his desire to stay away from the center of immigration wildfires.

To Tequila Party members and other independents, this disappearing act is a sign that four more years of Obama will not lead to meaningful immigration reform.

Without leadership, the nation’s immigration problems linger. Dick Durbin, one of the 2011 Act’s co-sponsors, summed up the problem. “Today we are living with a broken immigration system that weakens our national security, hurts our workers and falls short of the most basic standard of justice.”

To fix the problem, he might have added, requires political leadership and bipartisan political courage.

Whether either trait emerges during this election cycle is anyone’s guess.

By , Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics

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