Blog on Joe Biden’s speech to the Hispanic American Chamber of Commerce: Maybe a Mediator can Solve the Immigration Dilemma


In the last two weeks Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in which he urged the leadership of the House of Representatives to vote on the Senate immigration reform, or overhaul bill. He cited the fact that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that the Senate bill would reduce the deficit by 685 billion dollars in the next twenty years which is no small number indeed. Very few House Republicans can say with a straight face that this would not be a good thing for America. On the less positive side, Nancy Pelosi, Minority leader of the House (or House Minority ‘Whip,’) stated during the week that she will not agree to any bill that creates a permanent bar to citizenship for the estimated 11 million unauthorized aliens in the U.S. She also said that passing immigration reform is more important than winning the election in November for her and her caucus. Really?

This Democratic statement of position by Ms. Pelosi mirrors the precise problem in the current politics of immigration reform. The Democrats will not agree to a bill unless it creates the possibility of citizenship for those who are legalized by immigration reform. Ms. Pelosi intimates without saying so that the Republicans insist on no citizenship ever for undocumented immigrants as a precondition to put the Senate reform bill up for a vote in the House of Representatives. This public negotiating position seems to be little more than an obvious ploy by the Democratic leadership to make the Republican Party pay in the eyes of generations of Hispanic voters for refusing to legalize most immigrants unlawfully present in the U.S.

This kind of posturing on immigration reform bills is not new. It was the Republican Congress which passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 which among other things has made it difficult, and frequently impossible for even the bona fide spouses and parents of U.S. Citizen children to become lawful permanent residents if those foreign nationals entered the U.S. at a place other than that designated by the laws of the U.S. and did not remain unlawfully. The Republicans have not let voters forget that President Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 because it conveniently was placed on his desk by the Republican Congress about five weeks before his re-election on September 30, 1996. As most sitting Presidents would have done to prolong their career in the White House, President Clinton signed this Draconian, enforcement only bill which must have deeply disappointed the Republican nominee Bob Dole in the process. As we know, Bill Clinton won re-election by a landslide.

One cannot help but wonder if there have been back room negotiations between the two parties in which the Republicans have agreed to legalize most of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants but only in exchange for a lifetime bar to citizenship of those they would agree to legalize. If this has been, or is the offer on the table, why not publicize this negotiating position? Our country is supposed to run on openness, rather than on back room, or smoky restaurant, after hour deals. The problem in Washington is that the interests of the Party of each member of Congress come before the interests of the people who elected them to office. The author recalls that the Simpson-Mizzoli bill which later became known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act was passed by a Democratic Congress but was actually signed into law by a Republican President. Years later the bill is associated with Ronald Reagan and the Republicans, rather than with the Democratic Party although the 1980's was admittedly a period of much less partisanship and more compromise than what we see in Washington today.

If the possibility of those unauthorized immigrants who are living in the U.S to ever vote is “the line in the sand” where the Senate bill has stalled in the House, then this line is indeed founded on a clearly partisan basis, something that the Senators who passed the reform bill tried desperately to avoid. Someone with clout and respect of both parties has to rescue our failed national immigration policy from this inter Party bickering and game of blaming the other party. In civil litigation most states and the Federal courts now have mediation available, if not mandatory, to attempt to resolve the majority of disputes. In criminal cases our nation has a long tradition of plea bargaining to reach a compromise without the expense, uncertainty, and high risks for both sides of a criminal trial.

What I postulate that our nation needs is a well respected mediator to find a solution to the immigration reform dilemma. Both parties seem to agree on the end result at least in the long run but some of the players need political cover to act, rather than to continue to talk, and to continue to fail to act. My suggestion is that a compromise position would be that one who is legalized through immigration reform cannot become a US Citizen until he or she becomes a lawful permanent resident under the Senate bill, or maybe symbolically, for four years longer than the plan proposed in the Senate bill which hangs in limbo. Such an arrangement would protect both parties’ interests. Hispanic voters are not going to remember fifteen years into the future that they had to wait ten or more years to become a U.S. Citizen after being legalized if they are finally allowed to go back to their home countries after all these years without losing a better future for their children, and without losing a stable job which pays well in order to visit loved ones they have not seen for years. These potential future voters will not care if they can finally work without having to violate the law, often with the current tacit recognition of their U.S. Citizen employers of their unauthorized status. They will not blame either party if they have to wait for years to become a Citizen if they can drive a car in most states without fear of being pulled over due to their appearance alone. They will not remember in fifteen years that the Republicans created the law, the Illegal Immigrant and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, that made their obtaining lawful status impossible twenty five years ago. Voters don’t have long term memories. Nobody knows this to be more true more than the members of the House of Representatives, yet it is now the House members, or at least the leadership who primarily stands in the way of needed immigration reform.

Our nation needs to move on. A deal needs to be struck. I would like to see mediation of the dispute by a respected national figure about what to do with the 11 million or so “unauthorized,” or, oh yes, “illegals” for the ears of the Tea party readers. The time for mediation of this dispute over "so called principles" has come. Stop playing Party politics, Washington and get this pressing national problem solved!

About The Author

Peter R. Hill has 25 years of experience in immigration and criminal law. He is uniquely qualified to handle both areas of law; particularly as one affects the other. In addition, he has extensive Federal Court experience challenging arbitrary immigration decisions. He is the author of the immigration law section of the leading treatise of Georgia State Criminal Law: “Daniel’s Georgia Criminal Trial Practice.” Mr. Hill has been a presenter at numerous conferences and seminars. The most recent of which were at the Atlanta Bar Association Criminal Section at the prestigious Jones Day Law Firm, at the Federal Public Defenders Annual Seminar at the State Bar of Georgia, and a training session for the Fulton County Public Defenders.

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