Over a year ago, well before the idea became popular, I suggested the best approach to immigration reform might be to tackle one issue at a time.
I did not endorse throwing the baby out with the bath water.
I don’t beg love
And neither do I borrow, hey
Temptress, I’m calling your bluff
Temptress, I hope you can deliver the stuff
Temptress, enough is enough
(Lyrics by Maxi Priest, Temptress)
In the world of politics, it is not wise to bargain yourself down before you get to the table.
A one-sided compromise, without an equal or greater concession by one’s opponent, is tantamount to surrender.
Hence, as a Riverside immigration attorney, I’m puzzled by the strategy, though not the sentiments, of immigrant advocates who support reform without a path to citizenship.
The Danger Of Pundit Prophecies
In my view, the main problem with a piecemeal approach is not that some issues are temporarily delayed and excluded from the political debate.
Rather, it’s that certain issues will never be addressed.
This means the starting point is crucial.
What issues are first on the agenda?
Assuming the initial few matters are resolved, there is no guarantee the remainder will ever get a fair hearing – especially in the Halls of Congress.
Who knows what lurks around the corner in 3 – 5 years, much less 7 – 10 years?
Are immigration reformers willing to bet the house that pro-immigrant sympathizers will continue to make gains in the 2016, 2018, and 2020 elections and beyond?
Compromise Without Concession: Strategy Or Surrender?
Shortly after the 2012 elections, many media and political pundits assumed immigration reform was a done deal.
Even had they been correct, they failed to ask what type of immigration reform.
Reformers cannot afford to repeat this mistake.
Back in November and December 2012, most immigration reformers believed the debate would focus on trade-offs between law enforcement and full legalization policies.
At the outset of public discussions, the goal posts were moved.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, set the tone.
During the first hearing by his panel on immigration reform last February, he asked, “Are there options we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and pathway to citizenship?”
Increased border security and heightened law enforcement measures were removed from the debate.
Immigration reformers were placed in a take it or leave it position.
Many walked away.
Others, spurred by Democratic Party loyalties, pushed forward. Their actions belied the reality that immigrant families would not be immune from the negative effects of the Senate’s flawed proposal.
Fast forward a year.
With last year’s results on their mind, some resistance-oriented advocates have changed their position.
Now, these reformers assert, we should forego seeking a pathway to citizenship.
On the right, nothing has been proposed to curtail excessive border security and law enforcement policies.
Changes to deportation policies remain off the table.
As a result, both primary goals at the outset of 2013, deportation and citizenship, would no longer be part of negotiations.
In short, the goal posts would be moved again.
And immigration reform opponents still have not offered any countervailing trade-off.
Absent such a trade-off, what once was the middle ground – new permanent residency programs – would be transformed into a left extreme posture.
Under this approach, a 2014 compromise would be far more concessionary than most believed after the 2012 elections.
Without a full-fledged path to citizenship being placed on the table, there is no incentive for the political opponents of reform to bargain down their law enforcement proclivities.
On the contrary, their opportunity to impose further rollbacks on the immigration reform movement positions will be heightened.
Moreover, if there are no substantive changes made to deportation laws, much of the good which might be derived from revamped routes to permanent residency status would likely be nullified.
The Merry-Go-Round Of Immigration Reform
One reason why I like the piecemeal approach is that it allows immigrant rights advocates sufficient time to study the components of legislative proposals in depth.
Given the widespread public confusion about the 2014 reform package, stepping back to assess the legal details lurking behind the political promises seems a wise move.
Watching the early rounds of the 2014 immigration debate reinforces my perspective.
Activists need time to sort things out.
What is really going on behind closed doors?
Consider a few headlines over the past month:
President Obama Eyes Immigration Reform As A Top Priority for 2014
Fox News Latino, December 27, 2013
Immigration Reform’s Narrow Window For Survival
Politico, January 7, 2014
Boehner Drafting GOP Principles On Immigration Overhaul
Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2014
Republican Ideas On Immigration Could Legalize Up To 6.5 Million
New York Times, January 14, 2014
Only 3 % Of Americans Rank Immigration Reform As Top Priority
Breitbard.com, January 16, 2014
White House Tries A Kinder, Gentler Approach To Achieving Immigration Reform
Fox News Latino, January 22, 2014
Homeland Security Chief Says Border Security Is A Priority
Arizona Daily Star, January 23, 2014
This brief sampling of headlines demonstrates the apparent lack of a clear commitment to immigration reform by those responsible for passing such legislation.
Frankly, I’m burned out the way immigration reform is covered like a ride on a merry-go-round, raising hopes, then diminishing hopes, then raising them, then diminishing them in a seemingly endless procession of political announcements.
In actuality, the merry-go-round is a deliberate political strategy.
Keeping the immigrant public confused is a tactic designed to break the spirits of reformers and calculated to sap their zest to continue a long-term battle for justice and due process.
Given such up-and-down news, it is hardly surprising many immigration activists are pessimistic about the chances for success this year.
Nor is it startling these ambiguities would induce advocates to divide into various camps, following diverse strategies.
Political Distortion And The Blame Game
Those who are calling for the rejection of the “citizenship or nothing” position are not off base in their assessment of the political dynamics.
They correctly assert blaming Republicans for killing comprehensive immigration reform is good Democratic Party propaganda for the upcoming elections.
These reformers also assert this stance alienates Republicans interested in moving reform legislation forward.
Of course it does. Most Republicans are only willing to consider limited reform.
Just like many of the Democrats playing the blame game. They, too, do not support comprehensive immigration reform. The blame game gives them cover.
Their true motivations are camouflaged by attacking their opponents’ open objections to new citizenship pathways.
The agenda of both is to win re-election in November.
Neither is a fan of true comprehensive immigration reform.
On the other hand, there are Democrats who support citizenship as a crucial component of immigration reform.
For most immigrants, it’s hard to distinguish the two camps of Democratic Party politicians.
But as immigrant advocates, we have a bigger obstacle to hurdle. We have to choose the proper roadway for the upcoming political battle over reform.
If we are going to encourage rank-and-file supporters to follow our lead, we have to choose which political direction is preferred.
Once that choice is made, it will be easier to separate friend from foe.
Challenging The Temptress’ Immigration Bluff
Some who support the “no special path to citizenship” strategy claim the absence of such a path does not mean future green card holders could never become naturalized citizens via existing channels.
However, permanent residents are vulnerable to deportation.
Without changes to our nation’s detention and deportation policies, many potential permanent residents will not become green card holders. Others will be removed and lose their status due to heavy-handed enforcement mechanisms and procedures.
To be sure, many members in the no special path to citizenship group promise, after a limited reform is passed, to keep fighting against such deportation laws.
I have no reason to doubt their sincerity.
But if limited immigration reform is achieved this year, without any softening of current immigration law enforcement policies, what incentive exists for Congress to engage in another reform battle to address such issues in the near future?
The immigration cards left off the table now will most likely remain off the table for a long time.
Are reformers willing to tolerate massive deportations to a date uncertain in the future for green cards today?
That’s perhaps the central question posed to immigrants as the new reform debate opens.
It’s a question each immigrant advocate has to answer on their own.
Being a green card and citizenship lawyer, I’m not willing to surrender on such terms.
I don’t beg loveAnd neither do I borrow, heyTemptress, I’m calling your bluffTemptress, I hope you can deliver the stuffTemptress, enough is enough
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics