The push for comprehensive immigration reform has gained huge momentum since President Obama announced his proposal early this year. The call for an overhaul of our immigration laws has grown louder, with even business and labor groups uniting in support of a law mending our broken immigration system.
Of late, however, there have been signs of obstacles in the way of reform. The “Gang of Eight” Senators who had promised to have a bill by mid- March recently expressed doubts that they could meet their self-imposed deadline, although they hope to release one after their return from the recess, which runs from the last week of March to the first week of April.
Some believe that this is a problem. Legislative business is placed on hold during a recess as members of Congress go home and visit their constituents. Back in 2007 when immigration reform was last on the front page, angry town hall debates and opposition to amnesty unnerved politicians and derailed support for reform.
There are senators who think that the kind of opposition they faced in 2007 is a thing of the past. In a town-hall meeting held in his home state of Arizona last month however, an angry crowd fired criticism at Sen. John McCain so much so that the senator, a member of the bipartisan group working on immigration reform, had to remind the people to be civil. This backlash is seen as a portent of things to come.
According to a Bush administration official involved in the last effort, the longer the time between the release of the bill and voting, the lesser the chance of the bill being passed.
On the other hand, one of the senators, Sen. Lindsey Graham, believes that even if the bill is finished before the recess, releasing it without getting voted on is not a good idea. To Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, it is better to “do it right than do it fast”.
Another development that complicates the effort which otherwise enjoys broad support is the piecemeal approach adopted by some members of the House of Representatives. Some Republican Congressmen seem to believe that a series of smaller bills instead of a comprehensive bill is the better way. This fragmentary approach runs counter to the party’s current immigration platform.
Further still, the idea of immigration reform could be a hard sell to the many Republican House members that come from overwhelmingly white districts.
One of the most divisive issues is the pathway to citizenship of undocumented immigrants, which for President Obama and Democrats is an essential part of immigration reform. The bipartisan Senators’ plan would include a path for undocumented immigrants to become citizens, while other politicians prefer to withhold citizenship and support a plan that stops at permanent residency.
Senator Rubio advocates a plan that would give these immigrants the chance to apply for citizenship someday after many years in some kind of a nonimmigrant status or for a much longer time than what his party mates in the Gang of Eight believe is sufficient. On the other hand, his mentor and Florida Governor Jeb Bush – brother and son of past U.S. Presidents – would deny the immigrants the possibility of citizenship. Both Sen. Rubio and Gov. Bush are potential Republican presidential nominees.
As the battle for immigration reform unfolds, we will witness if our lawmakers are capable of rising to the challenge. They must put aside their differences, overcome these hurdles and work together towards a goal that serves the national interest.