The road to immigration reform remains rough
BY MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, February 03, 2013
2/03/13 at 7:29 AM
Could the country finally be headed toward immigration reform? Yes and no.
Is Congress actually having a bipartisan group hug? Yes and no.
Will the president accept an immigration reform bill approved by both chambers? Maybe.
Is the proposal being presented in the Senate the best and final version of long-awaited immigration reform? No.
It is encouraging to see some movement on immigration reform. And the bipartisan Senate committee did present some needed and fair proposals. It is, however, difficult to believe that the Republicans, who have so strongly resisted immigration reform, have finally seen the errors of their ways and decided to do the right thing.
It's the vote
More likely, the Republicans have read the writing on the wall that if they continue their hard-line approach to immigrants, they are likely to lose the Hispanic vote for a generation.
Case in point is John McCain. The Arizona Republican was one of the leaders for immigration reform during the George W. Bush administration (Bush also tried to get immigration reform through Congress but failed) and then he decided to run for president. To get through the primaries for the nomination he had to reverse himself and become a "tough on illegal immigration" candidate. It worked. He won the Republican nomination but lost the general election to Barack Obama. Obama carried the great majority of the Hispanic vote in 2008 and again in 2012.
With Hispanics being the fastest-growing group of immigrants, there have been some who predict that Texas could turn from red to blue by 2016. That seems doubtful, but it could eventually happen. That has Republicans worried.
There are other factors at work in this reform movement. The toughest is the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. There is, however, an interesting twist. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of undocumented workers in the country has dropped from a high of 12 million in 2007 to 11.1 million in 2011. (To see the Pew report go to www.tulsaworld.com/hispanicpew.)
There are fewer Hispanics illegally coming across the border; some estimates report as many as 600,000 made it across in 2007 and that fell to 85,000 in 2011. That is due as much to the downturn in the U.S. economy (jobs) and an upturn in Mexico's economy as to the restrictive polices set forth by states such as Oklahoma, Arizona and Alabama.
President Obama has his own immigration reform policy in his desk, but is willing to allow Congress to move forward with its own - for now.
"The good news is that - for the first time in many years - Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together," Obama said. "Members of both parties, in both chambers, are actively working on a solution. And yesterday (Monday), a bipartisan group of senators announced their principles for comprehensive immigration reform, which are very much in line with the principles I've proposed and campaigned on for the last few years. At this moment, it looks like there's a genuine desire to get this done soon. And that's very encouraging."
One of the biggest hurdles I see in the Senate recommendations is the caveat that before any path to citizenship can be hewn, the border must be secured.
That, to me, seems rather nebulous. What, exactly, is secure? It's sort of like President Bill Clinton's, it depends on what the definition of "is, is." It's up for interpretation.
Under secure border restriction, Congress could delay any further progress on immigration reform indefinitely.
There is more to immigration reform than simply securing our borders and stopping illegal crossings. Immigration reform also needs to address streamlining the current process for those who have come here legally and want to pursue citizenship. Many such people come here to attend college and decide they want to stay. They often are the scientists, technological wizards and entrepreneurs who can offer important talents to this country.
Bill Gates recently told CNN that the U.S. is losing potential talent. He is interested in high-skilled tech workers being allowed to stay in this country.
Listen to Bill
"The high talent immigration has kind of been held hostage," Gates told CNN.
Still, the focus of most Americans, and likely most in Congress, will be on illegal immigration. It remains a sticking point with many Americans who continue to foolishly see immigrants, legal or illegal, as a threat.
That will surely resonate in the House of Representatives. The immigration reform proposals coming from that chamber will almost certainly be very different from recommendations from the Senate or president.
Republican House members who campaigned and were elected on a get-tough policy and weak-kneed Democrats who fear a backlash in 2014 from a vocal but powerful minority that is dedicated to voting, could scuttle any attempt to institute fair and much-needed immigration reform.
Don't be fooled by the group hug in Washington. A half-baked reform measure full of loopholes is not acceptable. Pressure needs to continue to be applied to Congress and the president for the immigration reform that this country sorely needs and has awaited for too long.
Promises have been made. It's time to keep them.
Original Print Headline: Promises, promises
Mike Jones, 918-581-8332
President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform Tuesday in Las Vegas. ISAAC BREKKEN/Associated Press