US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Immigration reform this year?

By Father Tom Joyce, CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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President Barack Obama, even before the mass demonstration on the Washington Mall, had promised comprehensive immigration reform this year. But he hedged his promise on Republican support. There was some dissatisfaction with the Obama administration lack of movement on reform, but it was muted at the rally.

Now, after reports of a quota for deportations, sloppy administration at detention centers and crowded immigrations courts splashed on the front pages of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, the anger at the slow-moving administration bubbled to the surface again.

The Service Employers International Union blasted the Obama administration's stepped-up enforcement and warned Congress to act this year (see Washington Post). SEIU was an early and generous supporter of Barack Obama's presidential campaign and has a heavily Hispanic membership in key states, including California, New York, and Illinois. An electoral threat to Democrats seems be the intent. Few seriously expect SEIU or Hispanic voters to abandon the Democrats for the Republicans -- who are hardly trying to woe them -- but they could stay home in November. The threat is not entirely idle.

Still some believe action is possible this year. Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D, IL) puts faith in the work of Charles Schumer (D, NY) and Lindsey Graham (R, SC) (see Chicago Tribune). They are poised to introduce legislation late in April. But in the House the feeling is that the Democrats, battered by the health care bill and their votes on finance reform and global warming, are not willing to take up immigration before the November election.

The Republicans would welcome it, so to have another unpopular issue to assault them with, according to Tamar Jacoby a friendly conservative advocate of comprehensive reform. The Arizona Republic quotes her and goes on to report that the growing anti-immigrant rhetoric following the murder of a rancher near the Mexican border is poisoning even the reelection bid of Sen. John McCain (R, AZ).

The assumption, however, that the American public is tilted against reform is probably mistaken. A recent survey in California indicated that sentiment is shifting more favorably not only to "amnesty" (how it's defined is another issue) and a guest worker program. The shift is stronger among young voter, who are loosening their attitudes toward extending social services to the undocumented as well (see LA Times).

Despite McCain's withdrawal from the fight, some Republicans, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, do see the need for comprehensive reform, though they usually coupled it with punitive barriers. Republican Jim Edgar, the popular former governor of Illinois, argued before Chicago businessmen that a legalization of the undocumented will benefit the U,S, economy by $1.5 trillion over the next decade (see Chicago Tribune).

Comprehensive reform seems possible to some this year, but remote to others. The odds seem stacked against it. The Senate has to take up bills, already passed by the House, for reform of the financial sector and an energy bill that will curb green-house emission. Now there is another Supreme Court nomination to deal with. The tea-partiers are already in the streets denouncing the Obama proposals as socialist and fascist and un-American. To add immigration will light up the Capitol switchboard with a stream of vicious xenophobia.