The US Supreme Court will soon be deciding two issues which may determine what kind of country America will be for at least the next generation, if not the next 50 years or 100 years. Both of these issues are also likely to have a major effect, not only on immigration reform prospects for the immediate future, but on immigration policy for many decades to come.
I refer, of course, to the coming decisions regarding the validity of the Voting Rights Act and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). At issue in both of these cases are whether a vision of America as a society of prejudice and discrimination based on race or sexual orientation which dominated most of the 20th Century will by upheld, or whether America will truly enter the 21st Century as a nation of tolerance and equality, based on our common humanity, rather than on the color of one's skin or whether one's partner happens to be of the same or opposite sex.
Beyond all the legal wrangling that is expected to take place in the Supreme Court over arcane issues, such as the ability of certain states and other jurisdictions to "exit" from the requirement of obtaining approval from the Department of Justice before changing voting procedures, or the "level of scrutiny" that should be given to a law which openly discriminates against a certain class of people, i.e. legally married same sex couples, are far more basic questions.
One of these is whether people of color should have the same right to vote as white people. Until the Voting Rights Act was adopted in 1965, the answer to this question in our Southern states and in certain jurisdictions outside of the South was emphatically no. In 2012, almost a half century later, the answer was still no, at least according to the legislatures, governors and election officials in Florida, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and other key states who tried to manipulate voter ID requirements and voting hours in order to make it more difficult, if not impossible, for millions of African-American and Latino US citizens to vote.
While it was not the only legal tool that was used to stop white supremacists from stealing last year's election, the Voting Rights Act was one of the most important and effective ones, because it does not require waiting until a discriminatory law has already been put into place in order to challenge it. To argue that the Voting Rights Act is "no longer necessary" is the same as arguing that it is not "necessary" for people of color to be able to vote.
In the case of DOMA, the argument by supporters of the law is the opposite, namely that it IS necessary - in order to preserve hatred and discrimination based on sexual orientation which has been part of Western culture for the past 3,000 or more years, ever since the Biblical story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The immediate effect that the outcomes of these two Supreme Court cases will have on immigration is obvious. The only reason that immigration reform is now under discussion at all is because so many Latinos, along with African-Americans and Asians, stood for many hours in long lines in order to cast their votes against hatred and prejudice last fall.
If they had been kept away from the polls, who could possibly imagine that the Republicans would suddenly be so interested in at least creating the appearance of supporting immigration reform. Would President Obama, whose main vision of "reform" during his first term was deporting some 400,000 people each year and expanding Orwellian, police state measures such as "Secure Communities" now be showing such urgency for immigration reform (in the unlikely event that he had been re-elected at all without overwhelming support from minority voters)?
And as far as the rights of same sex couples are concerned, disagreement between the two parties over whether green cards should be granted to spouses in same sex marriages could derail immigration reform entirely, unless the Supreme Court renders this issue moot by striking down DOMA.
Even though immigration is certainly not the only issue that will be affected by the soon to be expected Supreme Court decisions either way on these two issues, these decisions may have a major effect on immigration policy, for better or worse, many years into the future.
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.