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Immigration Reform No Longer On the Back Burner

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January 2009
Immigration Reform No Longer On the Back Burner

Although initially there was concern that immigration reform would be on the back burner for the 111th Congress—behind the more pressing issues of the economy and healthcare reform—it now seems as though immigration will be a popular for the upcoming Congress. In an interview published in Gannet News Service in November, Senate Majority Leader Reid spoke candidly of upcoming plans to address immigration reform legislation, saying that he did not expect “much of a fight at all.” The reason for his confidence may have to do with the failure of anti-immigrant politics at the ballot box, the growing power of the Latino and immigrant vote, or the realization on the part of the Republican Party that it needs to shift its strategies.

A survey by America's Voice, a pro-immigration group, shows that 14 of 16 Democratic House candidates nationally won competitive races “where the Republican candidate tried to use illegal immigration as a wedge issue.” Many Republican strategists and leaders have already spoken out against the GOP's restrictionist, enforcement-only approach to immigration. Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) recently said on NBC's Meet the Press: “There were voices within our party that if they continue with that kind of anti-Hispanic rhetoric, we're going to be relegated to minority status.” In Newsweek, Karl Rove argued that, in order for the GOP to stay afloat, Republicans must truly support policy that “strengthens citizenship, grows our economy and keeps America a welcoming nation.” Given this new political reality, all signs point to a monumental shift in how immigration reform may be addressed.

Immigration will become an issue in the early days of Congress, before March 6th, which is when e-Verify runs out of authorization absent an act of Congress. Sen. Menendez has said he will not permit re-authorization for e-Verify without establishing the principle that the 111th Congress is benefits-minded (rather than enforcement-minded) on immigration. This first battle will indicate how we should expect the rest of the 111th Congress to go on immigration.

Recent failed policies have shown that enforcement-only policies are not only ineffectual, but also dangerous. Since Congress passed the Secure Fence Act of 2006, instead of comprehensive reform, 32 tunnels have been discovered under Arizona's border with Mexico. That's more than all tunnels previously found in Arizona. Drug cartels finance tunnels, but transporting people into the country illegally has become so lucrative that drug smugglers increasingly are mixing their cargo. If the U.S. had a process to legally bring in needed foreign workers and legalize the current undocumented population, the reduction in the Border Patrol's workload would allow border law enforcement to focus on drug smuggling.

Furthermore, President-elect Obama’s selection of Gov. Naplitano of Arizona indicates that his administration intends to make immigration a priority—she has a solid background in immigration issues. Even without action by Congress, the Executive Branch can use its own enforcement powers to affect immigration policy—expect to see this with regards to the workplace raids that ICE has stepped up in recent months. It is widely expected that Obama’s administration will reduce these raids, which are wreaking havoc on small communities throughout the United States.

VISA PREFERENCE NUMBERS FOR JANUARY 2009

FAMILY India                      Pakistan/Bangladesh

1st 15Jun02 15Jun02

2A 15May04 15May04

2B 22Mar00 22Mar00

3rd 01Aug00 01Aug00

4th 01Nov97 08Feb98

EMPLOYMENT India           Pakistan/Bangladesh

1st Current Current

2nd 01Jun03 Current

3rd 15Oct01 01May05

Other 15Mar03 15Mar03

4th Current Current

5th Current Current


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