Obama's call for immigration bill reform or politics?
BY MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, January 29, 2012
1/29/12 at 3:03 AM
It was something of a welcome surprise Tuesday night when President Barack Obama addressed immigration reform during his State of the Union speech. I thought the issue might be dead until after the election. The president, however, might be playing a political trump card.
Just because he brought up the need for such reform doesn't mean it will get any traction in Congress. If history is a guide, any attempt to devise a fair immigration policy won't even make it out of the House.
The last time any significant reform was attempted was in 2007 by Republican President George W. Bush. His initiative was defeated by a Republican Congress. That try was preceded by a call by Bush in 2004 to overhaul the immigration laws. He proposed the biggest changes since 1986 when Republican President Ronald Reagan's policy gave amnesty to more than 3 million immigrants.
Bush asked Congress to create a guest worker program. It would have authorized immigrants as guest workers for three years, then required them to return home. Further, it offered illegal immigrants the chance to become legal by registering as temporary workers. However, facing re-election and anti-immigrant fervor, he all but shelved the issue during the campaign.
In 2006, a bill by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was easily passed in the Senate. Their bill had a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and created a guest worker program. It collided with a House bill and the legislation died.
By then, harshness toward illegal immigrants had replaced any fairness. By October of 2006 Congress passed a bill to construct, by the end of 2008, 700 miles of border fences.
Bush made one more effort in early 2007. A small, bipartisan group of lawmakers came up with a comprehensive reform measure. It proposed to open a path to citizenship; for illegal immigrants after fees and other penalties. It also proposed a guest worker program.
By that time, the anti-immigrant crowd had become too well organized and the measure died in the Senate in June.
States step in
With the failure of Congress and a second-term Republican president, the states, supported by noisy and well-organized groups, stepped in. In 2008 alone, state legislatures passed 206 laws related to immigration. And the laws have continued since. The states with some of the harshest laws are, among others, Oklahoma, Arizona, Alabama and Georgia.
The economy collapsed in 2008 and anti-immigration feelings multiplied accordingly. During any economic downturn, the affected look for a scapegoat. Throughout U.S. history, one always has been found.
This time it is the Hispanics. The laws are aimed squarely at them. The tough Alabama laws drove many migrant workers, illegal and legal, out of the state, leaving crops to wither in the fields.
The latest push for punishment comes, not surprisingly, from Arizona. Its state school superintendent, John Huppenthal, forced the Tucson Unified School District to end its Mexican-American studies program. Huppenthal, who while in the state Legislature co-wrote the law that cracks down on ethnic studies, is now state superintendent and in charge of enforcing his own law.
The law prohibits programs that "promote the overthrow of the United States government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people" and "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."
That's broad language. As for promoting resentment toward a race or class of people, how does Huppenthal feel about teaching the history of Columbus, which could foment resentment toward the Spanish, or the Revolutionary War, which could cause one to mistrust the British, or the history of slavery, the Civil War, the Trail of Tears, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
I doubt that he had those groups of people in mind. I suspect that he is more concerned about white people being put in a bad light. If that is the case, he needs to study even the homogenized version of history when it comes to the preceding events. I suspect that his idea of America's settlement of the Southwest is much different than the truth.
The fact is, history is often neither pretty nor fair. It is, however, something we all need to study and understand. Denying even the worst of our past does our future no good.
Now, Obama has placed immigration reform on the table again. Is it a political ploy? I would be naive if I believed it was done simply out of the goodness of his heart. The Hispanic vote was important to his election in 2008. It will be again this year. The Hispanic community has not been happy with his delay on the issue, although the collapse of the economy, along with other pressing issues, would make for a good excuse.
Whether it is political or humane does not matter. He has challenged Congress and America to address this elusive and volatile issue.
Still, I don't hold out much hope for any progress from this Congress. It has failed too many times and shows no interest - or guts - in tackling such a tough question.
Either way, it's good news for Obama. He either gets something or lays the blame on a recalcitrant Congress.
I continue to hope for true immigration policy progress. But I'm at the point where I'll take what I can get.
Original Print Headline: Reform or politics?
Mike Jones, 918-581-8332