In my comments earlier this week, I referred to the potentially long delays in granting full permanent resident status (often misleadingly called "citizenship" in the media) to 11 million unauthorized immigrants as "poison pills" which could kill immigration reform. My colleague Matt Kolken, on the other hand, states that insistence on granting immediate green cards to unauthorized immigrants could doom any chances of reform being enacted, presumably because Republicans would withdraw their support (January 30 ID). This would be a very different kind of poison pill, and one which the president would be to blame for, according to this argument.
At Matt argues persuasively, whether a work permit and relief from the threat of deportation automatically leads to permanent resident status or not is not of great importance to people whose main worry is being separated from their families and being kicked out of the country. His argument also finds support from the right, in the person of Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, who recently stated on Fox News that whatever one calls it, the reform plans that have been proposed so far amount to the functional equivalent of immediate legalization.
From this perspective, as Matt contends, the goal of reform should be to grab almost any kind of relief from deportation that the Republicans are willing to go along with, even if only parole, as long as it does not preclude the right to adjust status (i.e. receive a green card), through whatever regular channels may be available later on.
In effect, this amounts to letting the Republicans have almost as much additional "enforcement" as they want, because none of it will make any difference anyway. If the Republican party of "fiscal responsibility" , "balanced budgets" and "small government" wants to throw away additional billions of dollars on more drones along the Southern border as a face saving device for caving on legalization for 11 million people, who cares?
The same argument would apply to the Republicans' insistence on putting off full green card status for a quarter century, or however long they want, as long as unauthorized immigrants are protected from deportation now. Let the anti-immigrant lobby have its toys - in the form of more border technology, e-verify, whatever it wants, so at least it will have something to take home to its base, as long as the job of passing legalization - even if it is called "provisional status" - gets done.
This is without doubt an attractive argument, and it might have been a key factor in the rush by Senator Charles Schumer and his three fellow Democrats to accept the tough enforcement language in the Framework announced by the Senate group of eight earlier this week. But is this really a wise strategy, as opposed to one of holding out for genuine reform - one which would not make 11 million people second class residents (not even second class citizens) for as long as a quarter century?
A comparison with the debate over health care reform may provide some insights. To be continued.
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.