Reading the headlines, it is easy to become complacent about the prospects for immigration reform, including legal status for up to 11 million estimated unauthorized immigrants and more generous immigration quotas, especially for educated foreign workers with skills in science or technology, business entrepreneurs, investors and other immigrants who can help maintain America's competitiveness and grow our economy.
The Republicans, after their resounding defeat in this year's election, are rapidly seeing the light and realizing that their continued existence as a party depends on being able to reach out to Latino (and Asian) voters who care deeply about immigration. Meanwhile, the Democrats, including the Obama administration, no longer have to adopt hard line deportation policies in order to maintain their "credibility" on immigration enforcement with white voters, now that the Republican party is no longer in a position to pull America to the right. A nice narrative. But is it true?
First, the fact that many Republicans pundits and politicians, from Fox News commentator Sean Hannity to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, are now piling on Mitt Romney for his "self-deportation" remarks during the presidential campaign does not necessarily mean that there has been a fundamental transformation in the Republicans' views on immigration.
According to a Reuters article reprinted in the November 18 Huffington Post: Republican Outreach Leaves Immigrants, Minority Groups Sceptical, Latino voters and other minority groups remain on guard, given the Republicans' reluctance to embrace immigration reform and other substantive issues. The article also points out that the Republican machine remains strong and well-funded, and that it could still fragment the fledgling coalition of Latinos and other minority ethnic groups whose success in this year's election surprised many of its own members.
For too many decades, going back at least to the notorious Nixon "Southern Strategy" in the early 1970's, the Republicans have been known as the party of white supremacy. The only major exception was the 1986 Reagan amnesty, which was based on pragmatism and respect for reality which, at least until November 7, 2012, had been almost completely exorcised from the GOP by the Tea Party.
Other than the 1986 amnesty law, for most of the past two decades, the Republicans have gone out of their way to adopt anti-Latino and anti-immigrant policies on every level. IIRIRA, which most of us are now all too used to, with its harsh "unlawful presence" bars and its mandatory deportation of long-standing lawful permanent residents for "aggravated felonies", which, in some cases, can be almost anything beyond the level of jaywalking or spitting on the sidewalk, was passed, in the dead of night and without debate, and then attached to a veto-proof military appropriations bill barely over a month before the 1996 presidential election, by a Republican Congress.
After 9/11, a Republican president and Congress tried to make all immigrants scapegoats for the terror attacks with the REAL ID Act and Special Registration for men from Muslim countries (whether Muslims or not - I once gave a presentation on Special Registration to a group of people from Indonesia - inside the Roman Catholic church which they all belonged to).
In 2005, the Republican House passed HR 4437, a harsh anti-immigrant bill which in many respects was the predecessor of the draconian state laws later enacted by Republican legislatures and governors in Arizona, Alabama and several other states. Fortunately, that bill never reached the Democratic-controlled Senate.
I am not even mentioning a slew of anti-Latino "English Only" laws and similar discriminatory ordinances passed or considered in places like Prince William County, Virginia and many other localities in various parts of the US under Republican control.
Nor are Latino and other minority voters likely to forget the Republican attempts to sabotage the Kennedy-McCain bipartisan immigration reform bill in the Senate in 2007 with numerous poison pill amendments, including drastic reductions in family-based immigration quotas of great importance to Latinos, before finally killing the bill anyway, just as they were to kill the DREAM Act later on (with admittedly some Democratic help).
What guarantee is there that the Republicans will not use poison pills, such as an attempt to restrict birthright citizenship despite the 14th amendment (already reportedly proposed by Senator Lindsay Graham), in order to sabotage immigration reform this time around and then try to blame the Democrats for its failure once again?
And where is there any sign of movement by the Republicans to repeal their anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, and other States? Have they given up their rhetoric of demonizing and scapegoating minority immigrants for so many years?
But, as the above Reuters article also points out, a record number of deportations by the Obama administration has left many immigrants and other minorities "ambivalent" about the Democratic party as well. And with good reason. The election is over. Latinos and other minorities have spoken. President Obama will never have to run for office again.
What possible reason can there be now for continuing the unconscionable pace of deportations for people who are not DREAMERS (and the slow rate of DACA approvals for those who are)?Why is Secure Communities still expanding, or even still in existence? Why are blizzards, or hurricanes of absurd RFE's for petitions and applications involving highly qualified professional workers still blowing across the immigration landscape?
When will not only the 10 deadliest immigration prisons, but the rest of the immigration gulag system which threatens to make the US into one of the world's major human rights violators be shut down? On the Democratic administration's side too, there are many serious questions to be answered before we can know if there will be any real attempt at immigration reform.
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