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Why immigration reform can’t wait ’til 2011…

July 7, 2010 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

( President Obama gave a speech yesterday at The American University in Washington outlining his vision for immigration reform. He explained how the divisive sentiment in Congress and lack of support from Republican leaders has left the reform agenda held hostage. Their need to win — by ensuring Obama loses on everything – -makes the prospects of a bipartisan bill unlikely.

The fact that an overwhelming number of the Americans want reform should be the major stimulus for congressional action. The widespread negative response to state legislation on the issue, like the one in Arizona which makes racial profiling inevitable, has been just the latest impetus for a federal government to act.

What remains to be seen is whether President Obama can convince the Republican leadership to lay down their partisan swords and do their jobs. The primary reason for immigration reform is the need to protect our borders as a sovereign nation, the second is to provide the millions of otherwise law-abiding, illegal immigrants a path to citizenship which allows families to stay together and offers a humane solution to the process, and finally the importance of a streamlined federal approach which prevents misguided state-by-state laws that are separate and unequal.

The sad truth, as President Obama made plain in his speech, is in a political climate where the right-wing insists on opposition no matter what, crippling the Republican centrists who would otherwise support reform; and the impending mid-term elections in November where all politicians are willing to risk integrity for pandering and political survival.

President Obama’s speech was informative but nothing new. He has made the case for immigration reform many times, both during his candidacy and his 18-month presidency. The issues are clear, the solutions are outlined, and the path is paved. All we need is a Congress willing to do it.

One insightful economist, Robert E. Knight, who worked for the Federal Reserve after receiving his PhD in Economics from Harvard has stated: “No nation incapable of securing its borders is fit to be called a nation.” This is perhaps no more true now, since we live with the unfortunate realities of terrorism and the memories of 9/11. To be clear, the main focus of immigration reform today is at the Mexican border — which is not an issue of terrorism, but the old story of the poor seeking wealth.

America, as we all know, is a nation of immigrants and their descendants. Ellis Island and the Statute of Liberty are constant reminders of this very fact. This nation was populated by immigrants from all corners of the globe, who with their dreams, ambitions and hard work built what is now arguably the most powerful and productive country in the world. It would be amiss to insist that the millions of Mexican-Americans, whether they are naturalized citizens or not, do not daily contribute to the economic, political and social capital of the nation.

What is at issue is how to deal with border security when it has been neglected for so long. President Obama’s approach, which admittedly has borrowed heavily from George W. Bush’s failed attempt, is to provide a path to citizenship for the millions who are here illegally and are already upstanding, tax-paying citizens (for all intents and purposes), yet lack the legitimacy of paperwork and passports. The path to citizenship is vital to protecting families and avoiding an inhumane policy of raids and deportation.

This measured approach of focusing on rights and responsibilities, is reflective of the core values that underline good citizenship. While offering a clear path, Obama is also requiring illegal immigrants to come forward, be honest and be willing to accept responsibility. They will pay backed-taxes and placed in a regulated system which requires them to remain accountable, learn English and abide by the law. This great compromise is essential and reflective of great leadership: American leadership; not just presidential leadership. For the critics who are skeptical that illegal immigrants would not come forward, the truth is that those immigrants would much rather live in light than darkness. They would much rather experience the freedom of American citizenry, than the purgatory of being stateless and nationless.

Finally, the need to ensure uniformity among state immigration policies makes a comprehensive federal action imperative. The state of Arizona has received an onslaught of media attention with the passing of its controversial legislation which allows police officers to stop and question anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant. Liberals and centrists alike have attacked the policy because of what appears to be a carte blanche authority to racially profile. It is safe to say that Caucasian, blonde, blue eyed people living in Arizona will not be questioned under this new rule. In order to avoid a separate and inherently unequal immigration regulatory process, the federal government must act and act fast, especially when other states are considering similar legislative action.

There were no applause lines today during President Obama’s speech. Comprehensive immigration — if it were a bipartisan effort — would not be a political win for the Democrats or the Republicans. However, the Republican insistence to oppose Obama’s efforts are tied to two things: the need to undermine his Presidency at all costs and the need to claim a win if they can do it with their own majority after the November elections.

The truth of the matter is we live in an age of political pandering. As the largest growing minority group in America, Latinos (though extremely diverse) form a very cohesive and powerful voting bloc. The Republican Congressional leadership are keenly aware of this fact. And so it makes immigration reform a serious prize. When President George W Bush attempted it he was defeated largely by members of his own party. They lacked vision.

Now, half a decade later, the political landscape has placed the issue back at their front door. Who owns it matters now more than before. President Obama won the White House with 67 percent of the Latino-American vote. Mexican-Americans represent at least half of that. This issue is a deal breaker. And immigration policy, as it now stands, is as broken as the borders. What remain to be seen are not simply the winners and losers, but who is willing to fight.

Written By Edward Wyckoff Williams

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