Forget IOU on Immigration Reform
"You owe us" is not exactly a compelling argument for legislative action, but this is really all that some immigration reform activists have left to goose Democrats to make something -- anything -- happen during the lame-duck session of Congress.
This doesn't look likely and everyone knows it -- Congress reconvened
Monday and is facing major, controversial issues such as Medicare payments to
doctors, unemployment benefits, and whether to extend the Bush tax cuts.
There are other matters -- like ratification of the nuclear arms treaty
with Russia -- but the ones I just mentioned will overshadow any interjections
about the highly flammable issue of immigration reform because of their impact
on American pocketbooks. And like it or not, right now all anyone cares about
is the economy and their own financial stability.
Don't get me wrong, you can't blame activist groups for trying anything
to keep their reform agenda in the public eye at a time when some Republican
House members are licking their chops about legislation to deny
"birthright citizenship" to the U.S.-born children of illegal
immigrants, and do anything else possible to make illegal immigrants' lives
hellish enough to inspire a mass exodus.
On the first day of the lame-duck session, President Obama was quoted by
Sen. Robert Menendez, who is trying to meet with him to press the issue, as
saying he's only willing to move forward on immigration with Republican
support. Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart from Florida sent a
letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging her to schedule a vote during the session
on the DREAM Act, which would legalize immigrant youth who came to the U.S.
illegally before the age of 16 and fulfilled strict requirements. Pelosi would
join the forever-grateful-to-Hispanics Harry Reid in bringing up the act which
has enjoyed bipartisan support for over 10 years but was again smacked down in
September when he tried to tack it onto the defense spending authorization
I can't predict whether Congress will respond to this last-ditch effort
for relief to those frustrated with inaction on immigration reform, and many
observers think a comprehensive overhaul is dead until at least 2012. Either
way, the next few weeks should close the five-year "We demand
comprehensive immigration reform" chapter in the continuing American saga
over how we welcome newcomers and usher in a next chapter I'd call
"Political pragmatism, compromise, and small steps delivered substantive
"There's little political will to tackle something as huge as
immigration," Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law expert at Cornell
University, told me. "But if people realize they can't pass comprehensive
reform the question is, will they be able to pass some smaller bite-sized bills
like the DREAM Act, Ag Jobs? Some worry that if small bills go through, the
will to get through a larger, comprehensive package is diminished, but smaller
chunks could actually make a down payment on comprehensive immigration
Yet that won't happen unless there is compromise on the part of
legislators -- and also those demanding the reforms. Pro-reform organizations
have failed to communicate their legislative agenda effectively to non-supporters.
For the last five years they've left the impression, especially on those who
tend toward nativism, that "comprehensive immigration reform" is
actually code for an open borders policy that provides amnesty for all. While
this might not be true, activists have done a poor job of selling a more
concise vision to a country that, according to a recent nationwide poll of
registered voters, overwhelmingly believes it is unrealistic to deport all
illegal aliens and craves a federal solution including tighter border
This is an opportunity, not a setback. And rather than arguing for what
might be "owed" to Latino voters, it's time to convince the average
Joe on how both small and large reforms could benefit the entire country and
its financial stability.
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group