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Immigration Reform: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Posted: Feb 01, 2013

For those who were waiting for news on the comprehensive immigration reform front, Monday’s proposal by the Senate’s so-called ‘Gang of 8’ (which includes both Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Robert Menendez) seemed a bipartisan first step.

Tuesday’s proposal by President Obama shored up that first step without adding much more to it.

It is a measure of how disastrous the discourse on immigration reform has become since the days of the Ted Kennedy-John McCain immigration reform bill of 2005 that both of the proposals seem such a step forward to so many of us.

Both proposals have their problematic aspects.

Obama extolled his deportation rate without so much as acknowledging that the astromical number includes nearly as many ordinary heads of household as criminals.

The senators proposed that a path to citizenship cannot be enacted until the border is deemed secure by an advisory committee comprised of selected governors, legislators, etc. Depending on who is selected (Arizona Governor Jan Brewer? House Immigration subcommittee members Lamar Smith and Steven King?) this advisory committee might block the institution of a path to citizenship for years.

But the proposals we heard are canny politicking. On the president’s part, he has now seemingly made good on his promise to Latinos to put immigration reform on the table.

For the Republicans of the “Gang of 8,” the move is to reclaim Latino voters, who abandoned the party in droves during the past election, largely because of the toxic Republican-led discourse on immigration.

But the proposals are not universally acclaimed, and it remains to be seen how much political capital it earns either party.

It has been characterized by immigration activists as an enforcement-heavy further militarization of the border. And though advocates have applauded the expedited citizenship path that would be accorded to DREAM-Act eligible students, agricultural workers and graduates of STEM programs, there are fears that it further codifies and criminalizes undocumented immigrants that don’t fall into those categories

PA Rep. Lou Barletta told the Allentown Morning Call that, “Anyone who believes that they’re going to win over the Latino vote is grossly mistaken. The majority that are here illegally are low-skilled or may not even have a high school diploma. The Republican Party is not going to compete over who can give more social programs out. They will become Democrats because of the social programs they’ll depend on.”

Seemingly, reform will not be accomplished easily, no matter how cautious the steps.

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