CIR Down, But Not Out?

There seems an endless number of political obituaries mourning – or celebrating – the demise of any hope for a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill, with immigration hawks descending on Congress in a matter of weeks. According to some commentators, though, rumors of the death of comprehensive immigration reform have been greatly exaggerated, and they say there’s no time like the present to forge on ahead. One has to admire their optimism, given the long odds, but they’re basically right: the need for CIR is not going away, and poisonous political infighting has held this up for long enough.

In a San Francisco Chronicle Op-Ed piece that appeared shortly after the election, two prominent JapaneseAmericans – Rep. Michael Honda of San Jose, and Scott Fujita, a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns – are promoting legislation, the Reuniting Families Act, that would streamline the process for reuniting families kept apart by the current immigration system. (See Immigration Reform Should Stay on Front Burner, by Michael Honda and Scott Fujita, San Francisco Chronicle, 04.Nov.2010.) The article does not say how the bill would bring about this change, but it does advocate unflinchingly for the kind of immigration reform that is most threatened by the coming changes on Capitol Hill: reform of the family-based immigration system.

According to Messrs. Honda and Fujita, the current family-based immigration system is so fraught with delays that it harms not just the families that are forced to wait five, ten, even twenty years to be together again; it also harms our economy:

“Limiting immigration flows has proved to be economically unsound and harmful to American families. Lengthy waits waste precious government resources and can discourage potential applicants from using legal channels to join their families in the United States.”

That rationale is unlikely to attract many votes in the enforcement-first camp of the immigration debate. Letting family-based immigrants in legally, to prevent their coming here illegally, probably sounds too much like “surrender” to the militant anti-immigrant lobby. Moreover, with the bill’s extension of family reunification rights to permanent partners of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals, one has to wonder whether the bill will ever even get out of committee.

A somewhat more pragmatic optimism infuses Tamar Jacoby’s piece on, which argues that progress on immigration reform should be desirable for both parties, at least in part because of “the looming presidential election of 2012, which neither party can win without Latino votes.” (See Immigration Reform is Still Doable, by Tamar Jacoby, Special to CNN, 03.Nov.2010.) As Jacoby points out, it’s all about the numbers, and Latinos have proven they are a political force to be reckoned with:

“As every political junkie knows, Latinos are the nation’s fastest growing voting block. Because of where they live, concentrated in a few swing states, they were a crucial piece – some say the crucial piece – of Obama’s 2008 margin of victory. Immigration reform is a litmus-test issue, and because of immigration, in recent years many Latinos have soured on Republicans. This week, Latinos turned out in healthy numbers and voted overwhelmingly Democratic – often by margins of more than 30 percent.”

Both sides understand this, and will be fighting to win the hearts and minds of Latino voters, which – says Jacoby – will give both side incentives to hash out an immigration deal in advance of the 2012 presidential elections. Given the “immigration hardliners” now coming to power, Jacoby observes, any new legislation will be, predictably, enforcement-heavy, “both on the border and in the workplace.” Jobs and the economy will also be central themes in the 2012 elections, Jacoby says, so that, “as the economy starts to grow, it will get harder to ignore the role that immigrants play in creating jobs – not just with innovation and business start-ups, but also by providing a low-end labor force that supports U.S. workers on the middle rungs of the job ladder.”

Notwithstanding Ms. Jacoby’s optimism, the outlook for CIR remains decidedly gloomy, but perhaps there’s no harm in reserving judgment and hoping for the best. CIR is dead; long live comprehensive immigration reform!

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.