For Whom The Bell Tolls:
The Future Of Immigration Reform
A few days ago, as I set out for my morning exercise, I noticed a neighbor had recently purchased a nice-looking shiny used car.
It looked like it had been re-polished and a few accessories had been added. It seemed to promise a smooth ride.
Whether the engine was up to the journey was another question. The answer, of course, would be forthcoming in a few months.
When I turned the corner, my thoughts switched to immigration reform.
The Political Lesson Of November 2012
Nine months ago, many friends and relatives decided to buy into a politically used vehicle.
The Democratic Party.
With President Obama leading the way, much like countless other immigrant supporters, they were swept off their feet by grandiose promises of immigration reform in 2013.
It didn’t matter that the political past of Obama and the Democrats was at odds with their campaign rhetoric.
They were undeterred.
The Party’s immigration history had been reworked. Incomplete accessories like DACA and I-601 waivers had been added. A smooth journey to comprehensive reform was proclaimed.
Like blind mice, friends, family members, and immigrant advocates conveniently ignored early warning signs that neither party was up to the journey.
They refused to fathom political evolution.
Mere promises were sufficient to secure their votes.
Yet, promises without commitment are not promises at all.
Unfortunately, there is no lemon law for political elections
Who Is The Immigration Reform Leader?
Last week I asked my Facebook friends, “Who is the real immigration reform leader?’
My quasi-poll was not intended to be scientific. After all, most of my Facebook buddies support comprehensive immigration reform.
I lost most if not all friends, Facebook and otherwise, who are opposed to compassionate policies for immigrants long ago.
Still, I felt my question would elicit some interesting and insightful views.
50% of those who replied marked, “There is no immigration leader”.
About 25% voted for “the people”.
Chasity Brewster Alvarez, CEO and Founder of Fair Unity, explained the latter viewpoint best:
“Our help doesn’t come from Washington. Washington is all about money, nothing more. The real leader of Immigration Reform, isn’t reduced to one person, it is millions, it is the advocates that hit the streets in support of their families and themselves. It is those who call on God to deliver them, it is the families who are making the calls, who are getting people to listen. It is the dreamers, the Ag workers, the spouses, the children. Washington couldn’t lead themselves out of a brown paper sack at this point.”
In essence, 75% of respondents agreed there is no spokesperson to set the tone for immigration reform supporters.
This political vacuum has led to the media circus which promotes Obama and Rubio, Schumer and Cruz, and other elected officials, as the reform leaders to follow.
As the once giddy declarations of premature victory have been replaced by somber realizations of pending disaster among reform supporters, there is uncertainty about whom can be trusted.
“Damned if we do, Damned if we don’t” is a common expression heard in immigration activist circles.
It’s not a strategy.
Unless supporters of truly compassionate immigration reform are willing to loudly dissent, immigrant communities are likely to remain vulnerable to the same types of nonsensical 2012 political rhetoric during the 2014 elections.
The bell of immigration reform tolls for all of us.
Even without a spokesperson, grass roots organizers must hold their ground starting now and well into 2014 and beyond – and refuse to again become pawns of a two party political system inadequate to address contemporary immigration issues.
In short, a stand must be taken. Wishy-washy politics is a recipe for long term failure.
There is a silver lining.
Since there is no hero to follow, each of us has the opportunity to find the hero within ourselves.
The Leadership Void: Newspaper Polls And Immigration Lawyers
A newly released USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll demonstrated widespread public schizophrenia on immigration reform.
On the one hand, three of four people agreed that undocumented workers should be allowed to remain in the United States and legalize their status. They realize massive deportations are not realistic, most immigrants are hard-working, and creating a path to a green card and citizenship would boost the U.S. economy.
On the other hand, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed also agreed with reform opponents that granting legal status to undocumented workers would drain government services and encourage more immigrants to try to enter the U.S. illegally.
In short, the poll revealed more than eight in 10 Americans endorse both sides of the immigration reform debate.
The findings highlight the effects of the absence of an immigration reform leader.
Because politicians from both the Democrat and Republican parties are promoted as the primary reform architects, there is no consistency from one day to the next in the news on immigration matters.
Without at least a few generally recognized pro-immigrant spokespersons, the middle-of-the-road crowd has no clear voice to follow regarding the immigrant perspective on reform issues.
Even on social media platforms, the absence is conspicuous.
Many immigrants, desperately in need of political leadership, follow blogs and articles written by immigration lawyers to gain perspective.
This is not the best scenario to achieve long-lasting, compassionate immigration reform.
Although I’m an immigration attorney in Riverside, I’ll be the first to admit lawyers have a tendency to overlook the political forest for the trees.
The majority of my colleagues focus on the minutiae of proposed changes. They are either unwilling or incapable to take an unequivocal stance on the bigger topic whether or not immigrant supporters should scrap all support for a flawed reform package.
It’s not entirely their fault.
For several, the nature of legal training has led to such an outcome. The ability to perceive and argue both sides of a case paradoxically limits their zest to advocate for the complete rejection of deficient legislation.
Back To The Political Drawing Board
I see matters slightly different.
Since I practice deportation defense, little surprise there.
To paraphrase the words of one infamous Chicago pastor, the chickens of immigration reform have come home to roost.
In my mind, enough evidence has emerged in recent weeks to grasp the current political reality.
Two of the most thorough critiques have been those issued by Presente.Org and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.
“We cannot, in good conscience, support a bill that’s guaranteed to deepen the crisis for citizens and non-citizens living in border communities,” notes Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org, which had originally supported the Senate immigration reform bill.
“As the legislation moves to the House,” he adds, “we are drawing a line that we cannot and will not accept more extreme measures disguised as bi-partisan immigration reform.”
Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law has conservatively estimated nearly half of the 11.1 undocumented immigrants in the U.S. may never qualify for benefits under the current legislation.
These individuals, states Schey, “will most likely be left facing an extremely harsh and unforgiving set of laws almost certain to eventually force their detention and deportation (if detected) or more likely leave them in undocumented status for the rest of their lives (if undetected).”
In other words, it’s time to stop playing footsies with the two parties on immigration reform.
Pro-immigrant advocates should not support the present legislative package.
It’s a 1,200 page bill with provisions that will undermine legalization for many immigrants – a bill which GOP members admit no one in the House of Representatives or the Senate has fully read, and yet which gets continuously worse as each day brings the nation closer to the next round of campaigning.
Rather, those of us who care about such issues ought to stop buying into the political and media circus surrounding immigration reform and get ready for political battles in 2014.
It’s time, now, to start over.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics