Yes We Can! (Can’t we?)23 Mar 2010
Tens of thousands of marchers converged Sunday, March 21, 2010 on the National Mall in Washington D.C., to press the case for immigration reform – now, rather than later. Waving flags and shouting, “Yes we can!” and “Si se puede!” the huge crowd enthusiastically voiced its desire for a prompt overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, especially one that would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. In a video that played over large-screen televisions on the mall, President Obama spoke to the assembled masses, promising to work with Congress this year to pass CIR, to repair a “broken immigration system.” (See Tens of Thousands Rally for Immigration Reform, by Sarah Karush, 22.Mar.2010, Associated Press.)
Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill late last year, told the New York Times that he was optimistic that the President will try to make good on his promise this year. (See: At Rally, Call for Urgency on Immigration Reform, by Julia Preston, New York Times, 21.Mar.2010.) When we last left Rep. Gutierrez, he was considering a “no” vote on health care reform, due to the lack of coverage for undocumented immigrants. Gutierrez later decided to vote “yes,” one of several key Democrats to rally to the cause when the historic health care reform measure passed the House of Representatives Sunday night.
Health care reform still must pass the Senate, where it’s likely to face a host of procedural snares. However, it is widely expected to pass and become law, perhaps as early as this week. The question now is: after health care reform, can Congress finally turn its attention to immigration? We can, yes? Frankly, it is too early to say, but there is reason to be optimistic – guardedly, at least – about CIR’s prospects, with health care reform nearly wrapped up.
Assuming health care reform is signed, sealed and delivered in the next few days, President Obama will have a major victory to his credit; he will have momentum on his side, looking strong, in control, and “Presidential” – a competent leader, fully capable of keeping his promises. He may also gain some short-term political capital to speed him along. (Had things gone the other way, many predicted a one-term, lame-duck presidency until 2012. What a difference a day makes!) Having triumphed against long odds, President Obama may be emboldened to make good on another of his major promises: reforming our immigration system, as he said he would do within his first year in office.
Are there other signs that the planets are aligning? Several leading Republicans have come out in support of comprehensive immigration reform – perhaps having concluded that opposition to CIR would alienate Latino voters, a growing constituency that helped propel candidate Obama to the Presidency. In a recent interview on Fox News, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke out in support of immigration reform, to meet the need for farm and construction workers, and to keep foreign students here when they finish their degrees. (See: Schwarzenegger Not Stuck Between Barack and a Hard Place on the Stimulus, Health Care Summit, interview with Greta Van Susteren, 23.Feb.2010, Fox News.)
Those on the Right who consider Governor Schwarzenegger to be a RINO – Republican In Name Only – may sit up and take notice that two hard-right Republicans have also expressed support for CIR in recent days: Former House Majority Leaders Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, neither of whom has ever been accused of leaning toward the left. Writing in the Capitol Hill newspaper, Roll Call, DeLay rebuked President Obama for taking his attention from the need to reform “our broken immigration system.” DeLay called for “a way for people who are here illegally to pay taxes and get right with the law,” and “a program so businesses have the employees they need – such as a fair and efficiently run guest-worker program.” (See: DeLay: The Left is Right on Immigration Reform Delay, by Tom DeLay, Roll Call, 16.Mar.2010.) Despite apparent inconsistencies, DeLay says “no amnesty,” even while demanding that we “bring people out of the shadows” – he adds another Republican voice to the growing chorus calling for CIR now.
Dick Armey was a bit more tepid in his support, but left no doubt about his reasons. According to a report on IrishCentral.com, Armey told a National Press Club audience last week that the GOP should rethink its stance on immigration reform, and “handle it with some sense of compassion and some sense of civility.” Armey warned his former Congressional colleagues that, “the HispanicAmerican is the most natural-born constituency for the Republican Party since the Black American was in 1965. And these guys are trying to blow it.” (See: Top Republican Dick Armey Urges Immigration Reform, Saying GOP is all Wrong on Immigrants, IrishCentral.com, 16.Mar.2010.) Armey continued, according to IrishCentral.com, “Just do it right…There is room in America. If you love America, if you love freedom, love work, are willing to pay your way, pay your taxes and obey the law, you should be welcome in America.”
Still other signs seem to portend a convergence of Democratic and Republican political orbits, overlapping like circles in a Venn diagram. If consensus eventually builds in the political center, some credit should go to Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who have been working for months on a compromise CIR bill. Last week, President Obama praised their blueprint for comprehensive immigration reform, and pledged “to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year on this important issue.” (Statement of the President Praising the Bipartisan Immigration Reform Framework, 18.Mar.2010.)
The greatest reason CIR now has a chance is also the most practical one; two massive chunks of legislation cannot occupy the same space at the same time. With health care no longer the center of political attention, there finally will be space for immigration reform. Still, it’s too early to predict the fate of CIR. It is an election year, after all, and it may be hard to preserve consensus on any issue that’s this controversial; the temptation to score political points may be just too great, with egos red and raw after a bruising procedural battle to bring health care reform to a final vote. So can we? In theory, yes we can. Will we?