How Likely is Immigration Reform This Year?

Yesterday's major immigration-reform demonstration on the National Mall took a backseat to the 11th-hour wrangling over health care in the House of Representatives – and the histrionics of the much smaller Tea Party crowd yelling racial and homophobic slurs at members of Congress. That seemed to underscore the very reason the pro-immigration crowd is so frustrated: Despite having promised to make immigration reform a "top priority" in his first year, Obama's efforts have been concentrated on health care. But the demonstrators drew a line in the sand. Speaker after speaker said the immigrant community would "hold Obama accountable." Nydia M. Velázquez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told the crowd that they should tell lawmakers “that you will not forget which side of this debate they stood on." Others threatened not to support Democrats in the midterm elections if there was no movement.

If the Schumer-Graham blueprint is any indication, bipartisan momentum is building toward a major overhaul of the immigration system, but how likely are we to see a bill proposed and passed this year? Despite grass-roots enthusiasm, there is reason for cynicism: We've been here many times before. Even with bipartisan support – and sometimes even sponsorship from members of both parties – comprehensive immigration reform failed in 2005, 2006, and 2007. The most recent failed proposal, the 2007 "Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act," was supported by President Bush and included provisions sought by Republicans (increased enforcement) and Democrats (a path to legalization for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country). A cloture vote came up short in the Senate, killing the bill.

The real hurdle for immigration reform is the question of whether undocumented immigrants who are already here should be given amnesty. In anticipation of an amnesty battle, the right is sounding the alarm:

The bill doesn't have a prayer, because the American people oppose rewarding lawbreakers, which then encourages illegal immigration. … Allowing millions of illegal immigrants to stay and take jobs away from citizens is like giving a burglar a key to the house. Illegal immigrants should return home and play by the rules like millions of legal immigrants. -- Rep. Lamar Smith, top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, to the Washington Times

This entire situation is analogous to the immigration of destitute Goth masses across the Danube river into the Roman Empire, which began with the permission of the Emperor in about 376 A.D. Thirty-four years later King Alaric and the Visi-Goths over-ran and sacked the City of Rome, itself. Eventually, the collapse of that empire ushered in the Dark Ages. … This nation may very well fall in a much more civilized way, without a shot being fired. -- John Work at David Horowitz's Newsreel

If this immigration amnesty proposal is successful, America, this great beacon of freedom in the world, will be turned into a communist, third world, multi-lingual, dumbed down, uneducated mass of humanity that can more easily be controlled and manipulated by their new Masters, the new American politburo and the old establishment oligarchy. -- John Wallace at Right Side News

The comparison to burglars, the stock analogy to Rome (let's face it, what hasn't been blamed for bringing down the empire?), and the suggestion that providing a path to citizenship for undocumented workers will "dumb the country" down are either amusingly hyperbolic or just plain offensive, but they show the sort of resistance from the right that supporters of immigration reform are up against. I am not optimistic that any immigration reform plan that includes a path to citizenship will have a filibuster-proof chance this year given the partisan rancor left in health care's wake, the increasing radicalism among Republicans, and Democrats' fatigue after a bruising fight. But as I've argued, Democrats should take up the issue anyway. If the newly energized immigration-reform effort is taking names and pledging to remember "what side of this debate [legislators] stood on," now is a good time to take stock -- at least for Democrats who support reform. 

-- Gabriel Arana

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