I am absolutely euphoric, reading all the news about President Obama's meeting with progressives, his promise that this time he will really, really do immigration reform - yes, he really means it this time - and about all the wonderful proposals for more visa numbers, more legalization (or at least more deferred action), smoother immigration procedures across the board, and all the other wonderful promises and ideas that are on tap, now that the Republican party of "Papers, Please", "Self-Deportation" and electrified border fences has been defeated at the polls
I agree with every one of the great immigration reform proposals on the various wish lists I have seen so far, as well, I am sure, with many others still to come, now that we are about to enter the age of immigration Rapture. Well, I would not say that I agree with absolutely everything I have seen.
Why, after this stunning victory, would it be necessary to give into the Republicans who want to abolish the DV (Diversity) lottery by throwing in the towel on a program which has allowed many people from Africa and Asia to come here, even without having close relatives here or being super-educated? Don't I vaguely remember that at one time America actually welcomed immigrants whose only qualifications were the desire to work hard, build a new life and live in freedom, even if they had no family, money or education? Didn't someone even build a statue and write a poem for them?
If I really rack my brain, maybe I can actually think of some real people like - oh yes, my own grandparents - Jewish immigrants who came here from Russia to escape persecution by the Czar in the late 19th century. Are today's African or Bangladeshi DV lottery immigrants fundamentally different in their motivations?
Oh, but what about all the fraud in DV visa applications filed at US embassies in places like Lagos and Dhaka? Yes, that is unacceptable, and must be fought against with every resource available. But does that mean that the whole DV program should be cancelled worldwide?
I would like to see a list of immigration benefits, or any other government programs for that matter, that have never been tainted by fraud. It would be a pretty short list, even if compiled by someone who is not named Charles Grassley. But is that a reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater?
Also, isn't it just a little curious that the same Republicans who are so anxious to abolish the DV lottery, now that most of its beneficiaries are brown people, were all in favor of its AA-1 lottery predecessor some two decades ago, when a large number of the available visas were reserved for Ireland, and the number of predominantly non-white countries eligible to participate could probably have been counted on the fingers of one hand?
And what exactly is being offered in return for caving in on the DV lottery, perhaps America's last existing link with its original tradition of immigration opportunity for all to which it owes so much of its greatness today? More STEM visas. Don't get me wrong. STEM visas are a good thing. So good, in fact, that both parties supported making more of them available, even before the election results. So since everyone agrees that we need more STEM visas, why should immigration advocates have to give up anything to get them? Who won the election anyway?
If the pro-immigration side is willing to wimp out on the DV lottery, why not get something real in exchange? Such as a promise by the Republicans to respect the 14th Amendment and not to try to limit birthright citizenship? Such as an agreement that any immigration reform bill will preempt the whatever is still left of the Arizona, Alabama and other state anti- immigration laws after last June's historic Supreme Court decision? How about an agreement not to filibuster immigration reform in the Senate?
How about an agreement to strengthen federal voting rights laws so that suppression of Latino votes, which failed this time, making immigration reform possible in the first place, doesn't work next time with even more sophisticated and brazen strategies at the state level than we saw this year? How about real reform of the entire deportation system, not just piecemeal exemptions or postponements?
This reminds be of an old Jewish story from Czarist Russia (not from my grandparents - they died before I was born or when I was very young). Three men help save the life of the Czar in an accident, and he tells each one that he will grant whatever wish each one has. The first man, a nobleman, asks for a string of castles and big plots of land. "Don't worry", says the Czar, "Your wish shall be granted".
The second, an army officer, asks to be promoted to general with huge numbers of soldiers under his command. "Your wish is granted too", says the Czar. The third man, who is Jewish, only asks the Czar for one thing - a single herring. The Czar is amazed, but he agrees to give him the herring.
Afterward, the nobleman and the army officer rush up to the Jewish man and ask him why he only asked the Czar for a herring. He replies: " I don't know if you will ever really get your castles, land and armies, but at least I can be pretty sure that I will get my herring."
This may have been a good way to negotiate with the Czar, but it would not be a good way for the pro-immigrant side to negotiate with the Republicans about immigration, whether relating to the DV lottery or any other immigration issue. I agree that negotiations should be big, and they should be tough. The president and the Democrats have held onto the White House and the Senate. Can they hold onto their backbones?
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