Immigration Reform on the Back Burner…

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Written by:  Karla McKanders

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Shortly after health care reform passed, Republicans stated that there will be no cooperation with Democrats for the rest of the year.  Specifically, John McCain stated “There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year. They [Democrats] have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.” In addition, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, stated that he was withdrawing support of an outline for joint immigration bill with Democratic Senator Charles Schumer.  The joint bill proposed a pathway citizenship for undocumented immigrants by establishing biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; strengthening border security and interior enforcement; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; holding employers accountable for hiring undocumented workers; and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here. Graham echoed McCain’s sentiment that the passage of the health care bill “poisoned the well” of bipartisanship diminishing all hopes of cooperation on immigration reform.

On the eve of health care reform, on March 21, 2010, many immigrant’s rights advocates descended on the mall in Washington, D.C. to advocate for Congress to start discussions on immigration reform. More immigration rallies are being planned across the country to get Obama to place immigration reform on the Administration’s Agenda.

Even though the Administration has made some administrative immigration changes, the immigration system is still in disarray.  The changes have included the granting of asylum in the Matter of R-A- case which granted asylum to a victim of domestic violence who could not find protection in her home country and right to counsel for immigrants in proceedings.  There are, however, many issues that remain unresolved.  Some of the main issues are:

  • Reforming system of employment and recruitment of immigrant employees; this will help remedy the exploitation of workers, mixed status families, and human trafficking;
  • Implementing more Immigration Judges to ensure due process and fairness in deportation proceedings;
  • Reforming family based immigration;
  • Implementing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who have been in the country for long periods of time;
  • Implementing policies that seek alternatives to federal immigration enforcement through workplace raids, fugitive or absconder raids, gang related immigration enforcement, and bus sweeps inside the border;
  • Implementing alternatives to immigration enforcement by local authorities; and
  • Implementing regulations for the treatment of immigration detainees.

As immigrant advocates become restless with placing immigration on the Administration’s agenda, many questions remain: What does the current atmosphere on the Hill mean for immigration reform?  Would it be unwise for those advocating for immigration reform at this moment to push for legislation now in an environment where there will be no cooperation?  Was cooperation with Replublicans needed anyway to pass health care reform? How will immigration advocates, especially Latinos, react to the Obama Administration, who relied on their support, to win the election if immigration reform is not added to the agenda?