Hispanic / Latino

In the immigration debate a clear consensus on a path to citizenship has emerged

For those of us who have been working to fix our broken immigration system, this has been a very good week.   The new Kennedy-Kyl bill made significant headway through the Senate.  Bad amendments were defeated.   Good amendments, particularly the Bingaman amendment limiting the new guest worker plan to 200,000 a year, passed.

Perhaps overlooked in what was a busy week is how the opposition to what is the central provision of what has been called Comprehensive Immigration Reform collapsed, and how a clear national consensus to offer undocumented immigrants legal work status and a path to citizenship has emerged.  This is no small accomplishment, no small development in what has been a very difficult debate, and must be seen as a tremendous victory for Senator Kennedy and those advocating sensible reform.

This opposition, which now includes Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, while it has had many components, has been led since late 2005 by Congressional Republicans.  Their goal was to defeat any bill that had legalized the work status and offered a path to citizenship to the 12 million undocumented immigrants and their families.  Ten of millions of dollars of ads were run in races across the country demonizing Hispanic immigrants and supporters of sensible reform, and in many cases, the ads compared Mexican immigrants to Muslim terrorists.   It was a central plank of virtually every Republican campaign in the nation, from Rick Santorum to JD Hayworth.  While the President and some Senators, led by John McCain, opposed this strategy, they failed to persuade their colleagues and the ads and the campaign continued.

This strategy, of course, didn’t work, and I believe was one of the most significant political miscalculations of a political party in the modern era.  The Republicans demonization of immigrants, reminiscent of Pete Wilson’s efforts in California in the 1990s cost their Party in three ways: first, it has tremendous opportunity costs.  The hundreds of millions of dollars of paid and free media they invested in the issue gained them little or nothing politically.  This money and time and message could have been spent much more productively for them in other ways.  Second, it deeply angered Hispanics, the fastest growing part of the American electorate.  Hispanics swung 20 points to the Democrats and their turnout went up 33% from 2002.  And finally, it reinforced the central argument of the Democrats in 2006 – that Republicans were more interested in politics than solving the big problems facing the nation.  The national GOP whipped up a national frenzy around our “broken borders,” never offered a cogent solution to what is a very real problem and then blocked a sensible bi-partisan effort that would have gone a long way to mending our broken immigration system.

Which brings us to this week.  While we believe the new Senate bill needs further improvement, there should be little doubt that the Republican Party, Republicans in the Senate and the American people have joined the Democrats in embracing the central tenet of what progressives have fought for in this debate – a path to citizenship.  Opponents to the 2006 Senate bill like John Kyl have now embraced the citizenship provisions.  The new Chair of the RNC is a pro-immigration reform Hispanic immigrant, Mel Martinez.  And a new New York Times poll out today shows two-thirds of the nation now supporting a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/25/us/25poll.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin).

While there is a long way to go in this debate, their should be little doubt now that the nation and the leaders of both parties have come to consensus on one central tenet of the immigration debate – there must be a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.  For those of us in the trenches on this tough and important issue, we should sit back and recognize that for all the anger and contention significant progress has been made, and it is now much more likely that the lives of 12 million people will be dramatically improved this year. 

Finally, it should be noted that yesterday the Congress voted overwhelmingly to raise the minimum wage.  This has been a very high priority for NDN, and coupled with the progress made on immigration reform, demonstrates that this new Congress is taking the necessary steps to help improve the lives of those people in the United States struggling the hardest to get ahead.  If immigration reform passes this year, tens of millions of families will have had their lives directly affected, and improved, by the actions of this new Congress.  Given the inaction of recent years, these are no small accomplishments for Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi. 

Menendez: "It's a lousy deal"

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) describes his stance on the Senate's immigration compromise in today's Miami Herald. In his editorial, he discusses his plan to amend the bill so it reflects the values in which he and many others believe; but, more importantly, he provides a realistic criticism of the bill:

The foremost of these is the bedrock principle of family -- more specifically, the ability of American citizens or permanent residents to petition for their families to be reunified here. The deal struck changes the fundamental values of our immigration policy by making an advanced degree or skill in a highly technical profession the most important criteria for a visa. This nation has been built by immigrants who came to achieve success, but the deal tilts toward immigrants whose success stories are already written.

Family reunification will be deemphasized under this deal, serving to tear families apart. From a moral perspective, this undermines the family values that lawmakers so often talk about. Practically speaking, a breakdown of family structure often leads to a breakdown of social stability. I took it to heart when President Bush said that ''family values don't end at the Rio Grande.'' But this agreement, like his proposal before it, belies those words.

Under the deal, the unskilled workers who form a cornerstone of our economy by taking jobs most Americans would not are relegated to a truly temporary, Bracero-style worker program with no chance for permanent residency. Reality is that, without a light at the end of the tunnel, many who enter this program will go underground to stay in America, creating yet another class of undocumented workers.

Then there is the proposed pathway to permanent residency for the 12 million undocumented workers in this deal. One has to ask if it is truly a pathway or an unrealistic obstacle course.

The path includes years of waiting, up to $19,000 in fines and fees per family of four and ''touchback'' provisions requiring heads of households to return to their home countries before applying for reentry. Certainly fines and penalties are necessary, but if they are made prohibitive, millions of undocumented workers may choose to maintain their current status. We would prefer to know who is here to pursue the American Dream and who is here to destroy it.

Tamar Jacoby weighs in on the immigration debate

Tamar Jacoby provides a balanced analysis in this article from the Washington Post yesterday. From the lede:

The immigration deal the Senate produced last week is far from perfect, and its critics, left and right, make many valid points. But much of the criticism misses the forest for the trees. Left out of the debate: the historic scope and significance of the deal -- its ambition to deliver an immigration system that grapples with globalization and the choices it poses for America.

As usual, those yelling "amnesty" are the loudest voices. But they are increasingly out of sync with the public on immigration. Poll after poll in the past year shows 60 to 85 percent of voters in favor of an overhaul that would allow illegal immigrants to earn their way to citizenship by meeting certain requirements -- generally far less stringent requirements than those in the Senate compromise, which includes a $5,000 fine, at least a 13-year wait and a trip back to the immigrant's country of origin.

Could Rush be right? Schaller explains...

Tom Schaller has a great piece in Salon today on the immigration issue. From the lede:

On his radio talk show last Friday, dittohead in chief Rush Limbaugh was working himself into quite a lather. The subject? Immigration reform, specifically the controversial immigration bill now before the Senate -- or, as Limbaugh dubbed it, the Comprehensive Destroy the Republican Party Act. Though Limbaugh pummeled his usual targets on the left, complaining that the current immigration reform proposal was yet another Ted Kennedy-led scheme to destroy America, Limbaugh was also unsparing toward national Republicans:

At the end of the day here, what we're talking about is the marginalization, if not the destruction, of the Republican Party. Look, it's time to be blunt here. I said I'm going to stop carrying the water last November, and I'm not carrying the water. The current crop of Republican leaders has not only lost the Congress, the current crop of Republican leaders is on the way to destroying the base by signing on to this kind of legislation.

Simon gets to the heart of the issue in the piece, saying:

"The Republican strategy on immigration has been one of the great failures of modern politics," says Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, which has organized a systematic outreach campaign to Hispanic voters. "What's going on in the Republican Party is a debate between the strategists who want to win and a part of their base that is extremely xenophobic."

Immigration reform deal's discontents

The deal announced last Thursday is a disappointment to the business community, one of the key groups involved in the push for immigration reform.  Now the question is will the bill be changed enough during debate in Congress to bring business back on board.  The NYT has the details:

“A merit-based system for allocating green cards may sound good for business,” said Mr. Hoffman, who is co-chairman of Compete America, a coalition of high-tech companies. “But after reviewing the proposal, we have concluded that it is the wrong approach and will not solve the talent crisis facing many U.S. businesses. In fact, in some ways, it could leave American employers in a worse position.

“Under the current system,” Mr. Hoffman said, “you need an employer to sponsor you for a green card. Under the point system, you would not need an employer as a sponsor. An individual would get points for special skills, but those skills may not match the demand. You can’t hire a chemical engineer to do the work of a software engineer.”

David Isaacs, director of federal affairs at the Hewlett-Packard Company, said in a letter to the Senate that “a ‘merit-based system’ would take the hiring decision out of our hands and place it squarely in the hands of the federal government.”

Employers of lower-skilled workers voiced another concern.

“The point system would be skewed in favor of more highly skilled and educated workers,” said Laura Foote Reiff, co-chairwoman of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, whose members employ millions of workers in hotels, restaurants, nursing homes, hospitals and the construction industry.

And business is far from the only group that has serious reservations about the proposed reform bill.  Immigrants themselves are concerned:

Under the shade of a mesquite tree here one morning this week, waiting for work that did not come, Elías Ramírez weighed the hurdles of what could be the biggest overhaul in immigration law in two decades.

To become full legal residents, under a compromise Senate leaders announced Thursday, Mr. Ramírez and other illegal immigrants would have to pay a total of $5,000 in fines, more than 14 times the typical weekly earnings on the streets here, return to their home countries at least once, and wait as long as eight years. During the wait, they would have limited possibilities to bring other family members.

“Well, it sounds difficult, but not impossible,” said Mr. Ramírez, 24, a native of Chiapas, Mexico, who has been here a year. “I would like to be here legally in the future, so these things are what I might have to do.”

Another man among the group gathered outside a church here that serves as a hiring site for day laborers overheard Mr. Ramírez and approached with disdain.

“It’s almost impossible to bring your family,” he said, rattling off information he had gleaned from a Spanish-language newspaper. “You have to go back first, and what are you going to do in Mexico while you are there and there is no work? I’ve been here 20 years and I still work and support my family, so why would I do any of these things?”

And then there are two other groups that have concerns, pro-comprehensive immigration reform advocates and conservatives.  Clearly, we have a lot of work to do.

Washington Post details immigration outlook in Senate

The Washington Post offers an in-depth look at the immigration deal in the Senate. Some of the details from the article:

Under the tentative deal, undocumented workers who crossed into the country before Jan. 1 would be offered a temporary-residency permit while they await a new "Z Visa" that would allow them to live and work lawfully here. The head of an illegal-immigrant household would have eight years to return to his or her home country to apply for permanent legal residence for members of the household, but each Z Visa itself would be renewable indefinitely, as long as the holder passes a criminal background check, remains fully employed and pays a $5,000 fine, plus a paperwork-processing fee.

A separate, temporary-worker program would be established for 400,000 migrants a year. Each temporary work visa would be good for two years and could be renewed up to three times, as long as the worker leaves the country for a year between renewals.

However, some key Democratic Senators and advocacy groups spoke about fears they have with the bill.

"When they say, 'We're all in agreement, we have a deal,' certainly I don't feel that way," said Sen. Robert Menendez.


"We want to see an immigration reform debate on the Senate floor. We want to see this move forward. But we are wildly uncomfortable with a lot of what we're hearing," said Cecilia Muñoz, chief lobbyist for the National Council of La Raza.

Immigration: progress on Senate Bill

The New York Times reports on progress among ten Senators working behind closed doors on an immigration bill. From the lede:

With the new Congress poised to take its first vote on immigration, senators from both parties stepped up the pace of negotiations on Tuesday in hopes of cutting a deal on a comprehensive bill that would increase enforcement at the border and offer legal status to millions of undocumented workers.

McCain sets it straight on immigration stance

(via Chris Cilizza from The Fix) Last night during the Republican presidential debate, Senator John McCain addressed questions about where he stands on the immigration debate. McCain said:

"What the American people expect us to do is to sit down and work this issue out...We have to have a comprehensive solution and it has to be bipartisan."

"I intend to lead; I don't intend to follow. I don't intend to block things."

McCain also responded to criticism from Mitt Romney that he worked in a bipartisan manner (how terrible?!) on McCain-Kennedy, a bill that Romney feels conservatives oppose, even though Senator Sam Brownback was a cosponsor. McCain responded:

"I haven't changed my position in even-numbered years or ... because of the different offices that I may be running for."

As you know, McCain was intimately involved in past discussions and lead the debate on comprehensive immigration reform. Yet recently, many feel as if he's walked away from the table, instead delegating to Senators Kyl and Graham to get the job done.

GOP candidates alter tone on immigration

The Washington Post has a great piece today on how a cadre of GOP candidates is handling the immigration issue. The article chronicles the past stances of John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Sam Brownback and how they relate to their current views. Hats off to Frank Sharry, head of the National Immigration Forum, who most accurately and concisely pointed out the changes/silence of John McCain and Rudy Giuliani:

"The fact that he's not in the room helping to build a bipartisan consensus . . . it's going to be far more difficult to get a bipartisan bill," said Frank Sharry, a pro-immigrant lobbyist. "This guy is my hero on this issue. I am heartbroken that he's not in the room. Heartbroken."

Giuliani "was a god in the mid-1990s on this issue," Sharry said this week.

Thankfully, Senators Reid and Kennedy are keeping the pressure on...

President focuses on CIR in Radio Address

President Bush used his weekly radio address to tout comprehensive immigration reform. From the address (listen here and read the Spanish version here):

We must address all elements of this problem together, or none of them will be solved at all. We must not repeat the mistakes that caused previous efforts at immigration reform to fail. So I support a comprehensive immigration reform bill that accomplishes five clear objectives:

First, America must continue our efforts to improve security at our borders.

Second, we must hold employers to account for the workers they hire, by providing better tools for them to verify documents and work eligibility.

Third, we must create a temporary worker program that takes pressure off the border by providing foreign workers a legal and orderly way to enter our country to fill jobs that Americans are not doing.

Fourth, we must resolve the status of millions of illegal immigrants who are here already, without amnesty and without animosity.

Finally, we must honor the great American tradition of the melting pot. Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, and an ability to speak and write the English language. And the success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society and embrace our common identity as Americans.

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