Earlier this week, top advocates of immigration reform met at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the National Democrat Network (NDN), a center-left think tank, to discuss the prospects of getting a bill through Congress by year's end. "The fundamentals are stronger than at any time during the last ten years," Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, told the audience. "[Immigration reform] is a plane on the runway ready to take off." Skeptics might counter that the jet has been sitting on the tarmac for months. In early June, House Speaker John Boehner said immigration reform was set to see the president’s desk by the end of the summer. The White House said the same thing. The Senate passed an omnibus bill in July, but August recess came and went without legislation getting through the House. Now, with the looming budget battle soaking up the Beltway’s oxygen, it seems House Republicans intend to slow-walk the bill to death.
House Republicans' latest excuse for not passing immigration reform—that the congressional calendar is too stuffed with shutdowns and Syria dilemmas—is pretty silly. First, the debt ceiling hasn’t dropped into the fall session unceremoniously from the sky—this is an annual responsibility they knew would return since the last hellish time they raised our borrowing limit. Second, there’s absolutely nothing stopping the House from passing immigration reform ASAP. In a single day, Republican legislators could bring the Senate immigration bill for a floor vote in the House, where conventional wisdom says it has the votes to pass. "This is no longer a debate about policy. We've had ten years of debate," says Muzaffar Chishti, director of the New York office of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. "Every element of the policy discussion has been held and held repeatedly."
The Mexican state of Tamaulipas sits across the border from Texas, and it can be a scary place. With one of the largest ports of entry to the United States, Tamaulipas is a coveted drug-trafficking corridor disputed by the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas, and an outside gang called Sinaloa. The spiral into violence began in 2006 when the Mexican government started an all-out-war against these criminal organizations. At the height of conflict, newsrooms got attacked, battles would often involve grenades, and gruesome mass killings rose, even as the military patrolled the streets. Drug-trafficking organizations are not only into smuggling these days; they engage in theft, piracy, extortion, and, more recently, kidnapping.
When the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of the Gang of Eight's immigration bill Tuesday—which showed the legislation would cut the deficit by $197 billion over the next 10 years and by $700 billion over the next 20 thanks to tax revenue from increased economic activity—its opponents pounced. “If there’s one thing Washington knows how to do, it’s to come up with bogus cost estimates,” Texas senator Ted Cruz told right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who like Cruz sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been a staunch opponent of the bill, assailed the agency for failing to account for spending past the first 10 years (the agency typically does not conduct detailed cost projections past 10 years given the difficulty of doing so accurately).
In July of 2010, Russ Feingold did the principled thing. After weeks of markup and debate, the liberal Wisconsin senator voted against Dodd-Frank. "My test for the financial-regulatory reform bill is whether it will prevent another crisis," Feingold said at the time. "[The bill] fails that test." Ironically, Feingold's fortitude only served to further weaken the legislation. In order to break a filibuster, Dodd-Frank's sponsors had to appease conservative Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, who opposed a "bank tax" that would have made financial institutions pay for the new regulatory regime. The provision was stripped from the legislation, costing taxpayers $19 billion.
Gay-rights advocates should keep this scenario in mind as the Gang of Eight tries to push immigration reform through the Senate. Given that more than a quarter million undocumented immigrants are LGBT, the movement has a broad interest in seeing comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship succeed. But gay-rights supporters have also been pushing for a specific provision in the bill recognizing LGBT families, who under current law are ineligible for family-based immigration. President Obama's immigration proposal, released in February, contained such a provision. But few were surprised that the bill unveiled by the bipartisan group earlier this month contained a legalization program for the undocumented but made no mention of LGBT families. This is no doubt a shortcoming in the current proposal, and one that groups like Immigration Equality, which advocates on behalf of gay and HIV-positive immigrants, should fight to fix. Immigration Equality has already said that the current Senate bill "does not reflect the values or diversity of our country" and that "we are watching—and we will remember—which lawmakers stand with us, and which stand to the side, when this critical vote happens." The Human Rights Campaign and other prominent gay-rights groups have similarly condemned the current Senate bill.
Shortly after Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated bombs near the finish line at the Boston marathon, killing 3 people and injuring over 200, conservatives opposed to immigration reform began exploiting the tragedy. Their goal? Derailing or delaying the 844-page Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. The bombings cast a pall over hearings on the immigration bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, where Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano fielded questions about the asylum process used by the boys' family to enter the country. Questions were also posed about the Department of Homeland Security's entry-exit system, which tracked the older of the two brothers' six-month trip to Russia, but not his re-entry.
Wednesday's release of the Gang of Eight's 844-page immigration-reform bill has taken a backseat to the coverage of the Boston bombings, currently hurtling toward a tense denouement. Immigration-advocacy organizations pushed back their press calls, and the senators behind the bill cancelled their press conference altogether. But the bill represents a sea change in the way the United States handles immigration. With a wide path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country and a major overhaul of the family- and employment-based immigration systems, it is a decisive shift away from the economic protectionism and anti-immigrant vitriol of the 2007-2008 immigration debate.
The United States, with more than 40 million foreign-born, a number that includes the estimated 11 million illegal residents, is not just the largest immigration player in the world; it’s larger than the next four largest players combined. Because immigration amounts to social engineering, how well we do it has profound consequences for huge swaths of our society, from education to health care to economic growth to foreign relations. Most important, how a country treats its immigrants is a powerful statement to the world about its values and the principles by which it stands.
In the legal battle over Arizona's "papers, please" law, SB 1070, the only part left standing after today's Supreme Court decision is the "papers, please" part.
The Court found that Arizona does not have the authority to make unlawful presence in the country a separate state crime; to make it a crime for undocumented immigrants to work or seek work; or to arrest someone without a warrant if there is "probable cause" they've committed a deportable offense. (For more on the legal implications of the decision, see Garrett Epps's analysis.)
Jonathan Chait has a great feature in New York Magazine on the frantic fear among Republicans that this is their last chance to stop the leftward drift of the United States as it becomes younger, browner, and more educated. He zeroes in on the apocolyptic rhetoric of GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates, but his most important point, I think, is this:
Recently, Scott Douglas III, a civil-rights activist in Alabama and executive director of the Greater Birmingham Ministries, appeared on TheColbertReport to discuss his involvement as a plaintiff in an American civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the state of Alabama. The case challenges the state's infamous HB 56 law, which imposes a litany of sanctions on undocumented immigrants. The law:
¡Somos Republicans!—the country's self-proclaimed largest Latino Republican group—endorsed New Gingrich today, saying that the candidate "has been working hard for many years to include American Hispanics in the overall conversation for a better America." The group also lamented Jon Huntsman's departure from the race and criticized Mitt Romney's "non-humanitarian approach" to immigration reform.
As 2011 draws to a close, the immigration situation in the U.S. remains a mess. Arizona's infamous SB 1070, which required law-enforcement officials to check immigration status during routine encounters if there was "reasonable suspicion" someone was in the country illegally, sparked a nationwide outcry when it was passed in 2010. But in the past year, lawmakers in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Utah, and South Carolina have followed suit, passing a host of copycat bills. In Alabama, schools are even required to check the immigration status of students, which has resulted in hundreds of Hispanic children being kept home from school.