As an immigration attorney, it’s my job to keep a close eye on potential changes to immigration law rules and regulations. This means I also have to pay ongoing attention to immigration politics.
Sadly, watching immigration politics in action is a dismal affair.
For nearly six months, I’ve been asserting comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely this year. This sentiment grew stronger with the president’s lukewarm speech on immigration reform last month.
Unfortunately, the news coming out of Washington this week, in all likelihood, confirmed my perspective.
The bill represents the death knell of legislative immigration reform efforts for 2010.
Or at least until the November elections are over.
New Immigration Measure Happened Quickly
Strangely, one lesson was learned this past week. Political votes on immigration issues can happen almost overnight.
On Tuesday, August 10, 2010, Congress passed a $600 million immigration border enforcement bill.
The bill was introduced in the Senate on Thursday, August 5, 2010.
The House had passed the bill two days earlier, on Tuesday, in a special session. This was followed up by the Senate’s emergency session on Thursday, in which the bill was unanimously approved.
On Friday, August 13, 2010, President Obama signed the measure.
It took a total of less than two weeks for the bill to zoom through the legislative process. This action signifies the president’s priority on immigration issues.
New Border Enforcement Bill Details
Termed the “Emergency Border Security Supplemental Appropriations Bill, ” the legislation allocates $600 million as follows:
– $176 million for 1,000 new Border Patrol agents and 200 special agents
– $32 million for modern surveillance tools, including unmanned aircraft drones
– $80 million for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including $50 million for new personnel and two new border patrol stations
The additional border enforcement funding provided by the measure covers up to the next fiscal year, 2011.
The package was supported by a group of U.S. senators and Congressional representatives who had insisted on a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.
Switching to an enforcement-first approach, New York Senator Charles Schumer, the leader of the group, stated, “Hopefully colleagues on both sides of the aisle will [now] come together and we can pass comprehensive reform.”
Obama Betrayal Of Pro-Immigration Advocates
Based on discussions with my colleagues, many immigration advocates and immigration lawyers in San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego feel betrayed by the political news.
“Efforts to overhaul our broken immigration system have once again taken a back seat to appeasing anti-immigrant xenophobes,” noted Margaret Moran, National President of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the United States.
Moran added, “Despite long ago exceeding the enforcement benchmarks, outlined by conservatives as a precursor to real reform, Congress continues to throw money at the problem when it has become abundantly clear that enforcement alone will not work.”
Over the past two decades, the United States has spent billions of dollars on border enforcement.
Since 1992, the annual budget of the U.S. Border Patrol has increased 714%. At the same time, the number of Border Patrol agents stationed on the southwest border has grown by 390%. Interior enforcement has expanded as well, and detentions and deportations are at record levels.
According to LULAC Executive Director Brent Wilkes, the enforcement benchmarks set by conservatives have been met, unauthorized border crossings are down, violent crime is down, and the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has declined. “However, instead of following through on their promise of comprehensive immigration reform once the targets were met,” Wilkes argues, “we just have ever escalating calls for enforcement.”
Some pro-immigrant leaders have called the security-first targets a shifting target. Everytime a goal is met, a new goal is set.
Comments made by Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, after the bill was approved, fit into this line of criticism. They noted, in a joint statement, the bill fell short by not dramatically increasing the number of customs inspectors along the Arizona border and not funding a program that charges illegal immigrants with low-level crimes.
What Does True Immigration Reform Look Like?
Like most deportation defense attorneys, I do not believe our immigration system can only be fixed via a long-term solution which not only secures our borders, but also affirms our heritage as a nation of immigrants.
Comprehensive immigration reform, in short, requires:
– a pathway to earn legal status for qualifying undocumented immigrants hiding in America’s shadows;
– a plan to help American businesses hire the workers they need to help grow our economy while protecting U.S. workers from unfair competition;
– a mechanism to reduce the immense backlogs in processing both family-based and employment-based immigration petitions for eligible immigrants
At the same time, Congress must ensure the dual purpose of protecting our national security and due process for immigrants.
These are not easy tasks.
If there is any silver lining in the immigration news of last week, it’s that if Congress gets serious, legislation from start to finish can be completed in two weeks or less.
Don’t pinch me if I’m day-dreaming.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics