Health Care Reform vs. Immigration Reform?

Last week, President Obama held a much-anticipated meeting with Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC), to discuss the prospects for passing a bipartisan immigration reform bill this year. Senators Schumer and Graham have been working for months to craft a centrist immigration reform measure that could attract broad support from both parties, but actual legislative language still is not forthcoming, even with time rapidly running out to get the bill through the committee process and onto the floor for a vote. Instead, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Senators provided a “blueprint” for reform, a mere three-page document, essentially a draft of an outline of a compromise – one that may not see the light of day until after the November elections. (See: Senators Give Obama a Bipartisan Plan on Immigration, by Peter Nicholas, Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2010.)

The plan was not made public, but according to the LA Times, Senator Graham said it would contain measures to tighten border security, a temporary worker program, and a new biometric Social Security card that would be use to keep illegal immigrants from getting jobs here. Without promising a path to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants already living in the United States, Senator Graham told the LA Times that the bipartisan proposal would contain “a rational plan” to deal with the issue, one that falls well short of the mass deportation and other punitive measures favored by many in his party.

To judge by Senator Graham’s statement afterwards, the meeting must have been anything but a bipartisan love-fest. The Times article quotes Senator Graham’s post-meeting statement, warning that if Senate Democrats attempt to pass health care reform on a simple majority vote, using controversial budget reconciliation procedures, the bipartisan immigration reform effort could collapse.

For his part, President Obama was content to release a terse statement acknowledging that the meeting had taken place and reaffirming his support for comprehensive immigration reform – but not committing the administration to a particular timeline. The President’s statement said, in its entirety:

“Today I met with Senators Schumer and Graham and was pleased to learn of their progress in forging a proposal to fix our broken immigration system. I look forward to reviewing their promising framework, and every American should applaud their efforts to reach across party lines and find commonsense answers to one of our most vexing problems. 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 for moving forward. I told both the Senators and the community leaders that my commitment to comprehensive immigration reform is unwavering, and that I will continue to be their partner in this important effort.”

Reading between the lines a bit, one senses that the President’s attention is elsewhere, fixed, as it must be, on the bruising health care reform fight that’s before him. Still, the President will not be able to avoid the immigration issue entirely. According to an article in The Hill, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is threatening to vote against health care reform unless the bill is purged of more restrictive Senate language, designed to prevent illegal immigrants from buying health care coverage under the health exchanges that the legislation would create. (See: Immigration Provision Has Hispanic Caucus Threatening ‘No’ Health Vote, by Jared Allen, The Hill, March 10, 2010.)

Moreover, thousands of immigration activists are expected to converge on Washington on March 21, for a mass march and rally in support of immigration reform. Among reform advocates, there is plenty of anger and impatience to go around, and much of it will be directed toward President Obama, who was elected with broad support from the Latino community, based in part on his promise to reform a broken immigration system in the first year of his presidency. (See: Obama Risks Alienating Latinos with Lack of Immigration Reform, by Joshua Hoyt, Washington Post, March 5, 2010.) Despite the many challenges of President Obama’s first year in office – viz., wholesale financial collapse, widespread unemployment, escalating violence overseas, renewed threats of terrorism, among many others – immigration advocates intend to hold the President to his promise. If Mr. Obama fails to deliver, Latino voters may simply stay home from the polls in November. Never mind the ides of March – the real threat is that first Tuesday in November…

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.