Is it Still Just a Little Too Early for Euphoria About Immigration Reform?


Roger Algase

It seems that every time the "Gang of Eight" Senators from both parties go into a closed room, there is a rash of articles in the media saying that Immigration Reform is a Done Deal. However, when one looks at the details of these stories, it is hard to find anything new.

To the contrary, the same tired old arguments about how long unauthorized immigrants would have to wait in legal limbo before even becoming eligible for green cards (not citizenship - there seems to be no agreement yet on whether this would happen at all), and whether there should be an enforcement "trigger" before any such immigrant could become eligible for a green card seem to be going on without end.

Nor are we hearing anything new about how long the "line" of people waiting for green cards would be. The latest estimates appear to be about 10 years.

The only tangible result of last November's election seems to have been that instead of debating whether some 11 million unauthorized immigrants should be given relief from deportation at all, which was the issue that killed reform in 2007, the debate now is about what to do after giving them at least provisional relief from deportation.

As my colleague Matt Kolken has pointed out, this is without doubt a sign of progress. Any arrangement that allows someone who would otherwise be facing deportation to stay and work in the US instead of being locked up and sent home is a major benefit. There would be plenty of time to worry about green cards and citizenship later on - perhaps decades later on.

But can't America do better than this? Did 71 per cent of Latino voters chose to create a long term, or even permanent, underclass of minority immigrants last November? Aren't elections supposed to have consequences? Wasn't the 2012 election a resounding vote in favor of allowing 11 million unauthorized immigrants a chance to become full members of American society?

How many of that 71 percent of Latino voters who went to the ballot box (despite desperate attempts in some Republican-controlled states to stop them from voting) opted for more immigration enforcement?

According to the January 7 New York Times, the federal government (pre-sequester, at least) was already spending to the tune of $18 billion a year on immigration enforcement, more than it spends on all other law enforcement agencies combined. How much more money do we need to throw into the abyss?

Are "enforcement" and "border security" anything more than code words for the anti-immigrant right which wants to keep America as white as possible for as long as possible, and denies the reality of demographic change (just as many right wing radicals deny climate change)?

But it is not only the fruitless exercise in deja vu all over again (to quote Yogi Berra) about "trading off" legalization for more enforcement that is discouraging about about the current immigration reform negotiations.

A March 11 article in Politico, Gang of Eight: No pathway agreement yet quotes Gang of Eight member Senator Lindsay Graham (R. SC) as follows:

"I'm not going to do a pathway to citizenship unless we get the language on border security and future flow - access to workers in the future to replace a family based immigration system with a merit-based immigration system. But I think that there's a general consensus that a pathway to citizenship is obviously going to be part of the bill." (Italics added.)

The last sentence of this quote, is, obviously, a way of saying adios to Jeb Bush, whose debates with himself about the pathway may soon fall into the dustbin of history, along with any remaining presidential hopes he may still have had.

But what about "replacing" the family based immigration system (translation - Latino, Caribbean and African immigrants) with more "merit based" (code word: white and Asian) immigrants? Is this anything other than another sop to the right wing lobby which wants to stop "chain immigration" from Central and Latin America?

In 2007, the final bill that failed to pass in the Senate also would have drastically cut family immigration quotas, as well as imposing an elitist point system on employment based immigration. We need real reform this time, not more attempts at sabotage.

About The Author

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.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) alone and should not be imputed to ILW.COM.