Just ten days ago, it looked like the immigration reform debate was over for this year. Now it seems the debate might resume as soon as the November elections are over.
On Wednesday, Senators Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Patrick Leahy of Vermont introduced S.B. 3932, The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010, a new immigration reform bill that would create a path toward legalization for undocumented immigrants.
“If we can put political grandstanding aside and work together on a comprehensive, middle-of-the-road bill like this one, we can bring all sides to the table,” Senator Menendez said. “We can finally take action on a problem that has generated a lot of talk over the past decade but few results.”
Congressman Luis Gutierrez, the primary sponsor of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIR-ASAP), lauded Menendez’s efforts.
He noted, “In Washington, passing anything is next to impossible and passing serious, thoughtful legislation to solve a tough public policy issue is harder than that. But it starts with a first step. This bill and the bill we crafted in the House are steps towards resolving the immigration issue in a rational way.”
What Does The New Immigration Reform Proposal Attempt To Achieve?
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 takes a broad approach to solving various problems which plague our immigration system.
SB 3932 goals include:
- Enhancing and strengthening border security
- Imposing striffer laws banning employment of undocumented workers
- Modifing detention procedures and providing secure alternatives to detention
- Establishing a commission to set adjustable levels of employment-related visas
- Invigorating the process for family-based petitions and promotes family unity
- Revising temporary worker programs and expanding protections for such workers
From my perspective as a green card and citizenship attorney, two of the more interesting and innovative aspects of SB 3932 are:
- The bill creates a provisional legal status, Lawful Prospective Immigrant (LPI), for undocumented immigrants who are (a) present in the United States as of September 30, 2010, (b) register with the government, (c) have never committed a serious crime, and (d) are otherwise admissible to the United States.
- The bill renames the Office of Citizenship as the “Office of Citizenship and New Americans.” The bill refocuses the Office’s efforts to integrate immigrants into the mainstream of their communities, by providing instruction and training on citizenship responsibilities as well as developing better educational materials for immigrants pursuing citizenship.
Is Comprehensive Immigration Reform Possible In 2010?
In my view, it seems unlikely Congress will consider SB 3932 this year. The odds are even slimmer that the bill will be passed.
Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization opposed to comprehensive immigration reform, pointed out the timing. He said this bill is “last-minute political theater designed to impress special-interest voters.” Stein added that Menendez-Leahy proposal is merely an effort to motivate Hispanics to show up at the voting polls in a few weeks.
Even though I strongly want immigration reform, I share some of Stein’s reservations.
As I wrote in The Battle To Pass The DREAM Act: It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over, Democrats have wasted golden opportunities for immigration reform over the past two years. After only giving lip service to creating a legalization path for immigrants, their current strategy is to blame Republicans for obstructionism and ignore their own shortcomings since the Obama administration began.
Even if we assume the positive – that Democrats are truly committed to passing immigration reform this year – I question the likely effectiveness of their strategy.
Perhaps immigration reform supporters in the Senate feel that after the elections, various departing Senators, including Republicans, will vote free of any party loyalties or public constraints.
This would be somewhat novel for American politics. Congress does not typically debate major legislative measures during the lame-duck sessions that follow November elections.
Is Comprehensive Immigration Reform More Likely In 2011?
On the other hand, maybe Democrats are gearing up for the next session of Congress. Perhaps reform supporters in the Senate believe they will have a stronger majority after the elections.
I’m not sure either calculation is accurate.
I expect immigration reform to remain a contentious issue next year. Perhaps more than ever.
Since Arizona SB 1070 became a major immigration issue, stern positions have been taken by both sides. If newcomers, who campaigned against immigration reform, join Congress and the Senate, the possibility of compromise is diminished.
In addition, the political focus will shift to the President and his re-election concerns. Most likely, the political views toward immigration reform will be more, not less, volatile once all parties are settled into their new roles.
At some point in time, the President will need to re-earn his support from immigrant communities who openly supported him in 2007. The strategy used this year, “blame it on the GOP,” is unlikely to remain a sufficient alibi once the fall elections are over.
Still, I think some form of immigration reform will get passed before the 2012 elections.
I suspect there will be movement on immigration reform next year, perhaps in the late summer or early fall. The eventual reform measure will not be as comprehensive as needed to adequately fix our currently broken immigration system. The current immigration reform proposal, like its predecessors, will become a victim of narrow political compromises and electoral calculations.
Having practiced as a San Diego immigration attorney for nearly two decades, I’ve met many immigrants and their family members suffer who deserve a sensible and reasonable path for legalization.
While Congress plays politics, these individuals languish in “shadows” of America unable to fully contribute their skills and talents to this country.
The time for a full and fair hearing on immigration reform by both the Senate and Congress is long overdue.
When do you think immigration reform will be passed?
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics