President Obama announced last week that his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) is “unwavering,” and that he would proceed with an overhaul of the immigration system this year if he could attract necessary Republican support. After meeting with Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, on March 11, 2010, the President stated that he will pursue his efforts in trying to move forward a proposal to fix our broken immigration system.
It is true that the President reaffirmed his "unwavering" commitment to comprehensive immigration reform, but he did not actually commit the Administration to doing anything specific at the present time. Rather, the President’s carefully worded statement made clear that it is unlikely that he will do anything about the broken immigration system until it is politically feasible. For now, Congress is fully preoccupied with a bitter partisan fight over health care reform and is not likely to be receptive to an immigration overhaul as the November election nears.
So, is CIR off the table this year? This question needs to be analyzed. CIR could still happen if the American people demand it. Congress could still embrace CIR if it is in its political interest. The President's statement referring to his meetings on Thursday was, "I also heard from a diverse group of grassroots leaders from around the country about the growing coalition that is working to build momentum for this critical issue. I am optimistic that their efforts will contribute to a favorable climate moving forward." This could mean that an overhaul of the broken immigration system is still possible if there is an organized grass roots support, to bring about the necessary votes.
There are some actions in the nation’s capital on the horizon. Next week, on Sunday, March 21, tens of thousands are expected to demand immigration reform at a rally in Washington. This may create the "momentum" that politicians, including President Obama, need to move forward on immigration reform. Millions of Latino voters who came out so heavily for him in 2008 will be critical in the midterm elections. Equally, it is important that the coalition of business, labor, religious organizations and others move toward building and maintaining the "momentum" beyond March 21 event. Our country cannot continue to tolerate a broken immigration system that prevents American businesses from engaging in effective global competition and further exploits and criminalizes undocumented workers.
To improve the passage of CIR, most recently, it has been reported that Senators Schumer and Graham are considering the inclusion of a requirement that all Americans (both citizens and immigrants alike) carry a biometric social security card to prove their ability to work lawfully in the U.S. These cards could contain information like fingerprints or a scan of the veins in a cardholder’s hand. This system, of course, could present serious privacy concerns.
Senator Graham's partisan message last week that immigration "could come to a halt for the year if health care reconciliation goes forward", is to be noted but may not carry any teeth; we will know better if and when the health care bill is passed. And while labor groups and immigration advocates want to involve Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican leader John Boehner, as well, they could very well feel the same. It is very unfair to the American people, particularly business and families, to use immigration reform as a bargaining chip against health care.
Fixing immigration requires bipartisan support. A lot of Republicans and conservatives have argued that reform is good for business and family reunification, strengthens national security, and pleases Latino voters.
Mr. Graham and Mr. Schumer are working on a grand bill that may or may not materialize this year. With the midterm elections approaching and the Obama administration just sitting there, the odds for an immigration bill look grim.
As The New York Times reported, “unless Republicans come around, Mr. Obama pulls some political capital from his depleted account, or Mr. Schumer and Mr. Graham pull off some legislative magic, we may be headed for another stalemate”.
There is one possible game changer: an immigration march in Washington planned for March 21, designed as a last-ditch effort to put reform on the agenda. There is nothing like 100,000 angry, frustrated, impatient marchers, representing millions of voters, to focus the Congressional and presidential mind, if it’s not too late. Hopefully, this march will create a new "momentum" for CIR.