The Time for Immigration Reform is Now

“The laws governing the immigration system aren’t working. The system is broken.”
George W. Bush, July 10th, 2013

Although many proponents of immigration reform in this country share former President Bush’s concerns regarding our immigration system, it is exceedingly likely that no reform will take place until 2015. Idaho Representative Raul Labrador recently offered this bleak prediction: “If we don’t do it now, in 2013, it’s not going to be — it’s not going to happen in 2014. And that means that we’re going to have to wait until 2015. So now, that time is — it’s becoming a lot shorter. We don’t know exactly when we’re going to be able to have this debate.”

Even though a bipartisan immigration reform bill overwhelmingly passed 68-32 in the Senate in June, the immigration reform debates were much more divisive in the House of Representatives. Following months of stagnation in Congress, the battle for comprehensive immigration reform was supplanted by debates on whether we should go to war in the Middle East and concerns over the economy. For many immigrant affairs activists, this narrative of immigration reform becoming an issue ancillary to fiscal and foreign policy is depressingly familiar.

Although Barack Obama twice campaigned on a political platform that championed comprehensive immigration reform, many of his immigration policies have left a “wake of devastation in Latino communities across the nation.” On the one hand, President Obama’s implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, has granted 500,000 undocumented persons permanent resident status, allowing reprieve for many individuals living in fear of deportation. On the other hand, President Obama has deported more individuals than any other President – nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants in five years – separating tens of thousands of parents from their U.S.-born children.

Bush, like Obama, routinely spoke out in support of immigration reform during his initial Presidential campaign. In June of 2000, then-Governor Bush argued that “immigration is not a problem to be solved. It is the sign of a successful nation. New Americans are to be welcomed as neighbors and not to be feared as strangers.” Shortly after winning the 2000 Presidential election, President Bush met with Mexican President Vicente Fox to discuss immigration reform. However, everything changed after the September 11th terrorist attacks, as immigration reform was pushed aside as the country’s focus shifted to national security and strengthening our national borders. Bush did attempt to pursue immigration reform in 2006 and 2007. Both attempts were rebuffed by House Republicans against the will of President Bush.

The Senate bill that passed in June was far from perfect. It “neither grants citizenship nor a legal status,” but instead allows for a 13 year pathway to citizenship. Additionally, the bill prohibits most of its beneficiaries from receiving any “federal means-tested public benefit,” such as “Any retirement, welfare, health, disability, public or assisted housing, postsecondary education, food assistance, unemployment benefit, or any other similar benefit.” Numerous agencies have interpreted this to mean Medicaid and Medicare, SNAP, energy assistance and so forth. Additionally, beneficiaries of the bill would be blocked from receiving health insurance subsidies via the Affordable Care Act. And the bill came with a hefty price tag – $44.5 billion of the $46.3 billion dollar price tag was to be set aside for new border security measures, with $30 billion alone set aside to hire additional border patrol agents and $8 billion going to build a fence along the southern border.

That said, a controversial bill that provides some relief is better than no bill at all.

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