Immigration reform advocates push forward in tough economyFebruary 19, 2009 Subscribe in a reader
Immigration policy changes
Backers of sweeping immigration policy changes, bolstered by the growing importance of the Hispanic voting bloc, are urging lawmakers to tackle the touchy subject this year despite rising unemployment levels among legal residents.
"One lesson of the Bush administration is if you donít move early, it becomes harder, not easier, to do," said Frank Sharry, the executive director of Americaís Voice, a group that supports offering a path to citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants. "You need a president with political capital to make the case to the American people."
Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told The Hill that he plans to speak on the House floor every week on the need for Congress to act. "Itís time to get comprehensive immigration reform done," Baca said.
But supporters acknowledge that rising joblessness creates a public-relations problem, if nothing else: How do you provide millions of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship at a time when millions of legal residents are out of work?
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the chief critics of so-called comprehensive reform efforts, has said it was "particularly infuriating" to know that there are an estimated 7 million illegal workers in the United States when unemployment is rising.
Opposition to a broad reform package could come from the left, too. Labor groups donít like efforts to increase guest- and temporary-worker programs, which they believe undercut employment and wages for permanent workers.
"It will be very difficult to move forward on immigration with rising unemployment levels," said Brian Darling, director of Senate relations at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
"Iím not sure it will be easy," added Angelo Amador, director of immigration policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a leading backer of the comprehensive reform policy proposed by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). "It isnít easy in good times."
Economy a drag on the cause
But if the economy is a drag on the cause, supporters say, there are a number of factors that play in their favor.
Democrats, who tend to be more supportive of the reform efforts, now hold stronger majorities in Congress. And there is further evidence that Republican opposition to immigration reform has undercut the partyís support among Hispanics, the fastest-growing voting bloc in the electorate.
Sharry said the recent elections show the politics of the debate have shifted. Once considered a third rail for Democrats ó a wedge issue akin to gay marriage ó immigration reform now has broad support among voters.
Sharry said voters in swing districts favor the comprehensive immigration reform over an enforcement-only approach by a 2-to-1 margin. Republicans, he said, made the mistake of campaigning on their opposition to reform. "There was very little air left in the balloon, and conservatives enjoyed squeezing the last little bit out of it," Sharry said.
Stewart Verdery, a former Homeland Security official who as a lobbyist supported a comprehensive reform bill, said the effort is also helped by improvements in border security made since the last big push at reform died on the Senate floor two years ago. "A lot of the things [opponents] wanted to see be built have been built or will soon be," Verdery said.
Whatís left is how to deal with the illegal immigrants already here and find the right mix of temporary workers to satisfy businesses without being a deal-killer for labor. The issue is about creating "fairness among employees," Sharry said, by giving undocumented workers greater protection from being exploited, which drives down wages across the board.
Finding a way to satisfy the various constituencies will be no small trick, however. Reform backers must do so at a time when one of their biggest backers, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), a champion of reform and expert legislator, is being treated for a brain tumor.
Who is going to take the lead?
The economy provides an obstacle in another sense as well. Addressing this leaves little room for lawmakers to tackle other issues. Congress already has a full plate of controversial matters: a follow-on bailout for the financial-services sector; a package of financial-sector regulatory reforms; and a controversial effort to make it easier for workers to organize.
Given the time and the state of the economy, some supporters say they want to begin the discussion this year with an eye toward passing a bill in 2010.
Business lobbyists have held several briefings on Capitol Hill already to lay the groundwork. Democrats, Amador said, express concern about guest-worker programs.
Republicans talk more about the rising unemployment levels. Amador said he stresses how the market should determine immigration levels, and also makes a blatant political appeal: "They cannot continue with their stand and retain their seats."
Verdery, a Republican, said the party is torn. At the national level, party leaders know they canít continue to antagonize Hispanic voters and centrists who support a broad reform bill and expect to win back their congressional majorities. But the party members in Congress now tend to come from conservative districts that oppose offering illegal immigrants some kind of pass, which leaves them little incentive to compromise.
Opponents of reform have also proven incredibly adept at mobilizing thousands of their supporters to fight any proposal that can be tagged with offering "amnesty" to illegal immigrants. Thatís also one reason why some Democrats are as reluctant as Republicans to tackle the issue. Not acting, however, might carry its own hazards.
The expectations for President Obama and congressional Democrats are so high, Sharry said, that if they donít deliver, "there will be a depressed turnout [among Hispanics]."
Enter the Green Card Lottery. 55,000 Green Card’s Must Go Each Year. Let us help you reach your dream of becoming an American resident today!
Return to USA Diversity Lottery's immigration news page to read more immigration news.
Take the free test to see if you qualify. If you do, apply for the USA Diversity Visa Green Card Lottery here on the Official USA Diversity Lottery site and your dreams may soon come true. 55,000 diversity immigrant visas (Green Cards) available in the lottery every year. Take the free test NOW!
February 19, 2009Immigration reform advocates push forward in tough economy
February 16, 2009H-1B Visa Fraud Sparks Arrests Nationwide
February 15, 2009US stimulus bill to hit Indians, H1-B visa holders hard
February 11, 2009US recession has slowed illegal border crossings from Mexico
February 9, 2009Obama administration postpones employment regulation
February 5, 2009Stricter US Visa Rules May Hit Indian IT Firms
February 3, 2009Will the Obama Administration Impact Immigration?
February 01, 2009Shoudl Illegal immigrants without Social Security numbers get stimulus payments?
January 28, 2009Will illegal immigrants take the stimulus jobs?
January 26, 2009More immigration will test U.S. economy, unity
January 22, 2009Obama and increases in US legal immigration
January 19, 2009Downturn effect: Britain to shut doors to foreign workers
January 16, 2009Few special immigration visas issued
January 15, 2009Napolitano Says Fixing Immigration System a Priority
January 12, 2009Diversity Visa Green Card Lottery (DV2011)
January 7, 2009New US Visit Visa requirements to go into place
January 7, 2009Obama and US immigration Reform
December 17, 2008US opens four new immigration facilities in Florida
November 27, 2008Renewed hope for US retirement visa
November 18, 2008US implements visa free travel policy for more EU states
November 11, 2008Less than a month to enter the DV2010 Green Card Lottery
October 14, 2008Obama represents the rise of African migration to U.S.
October 8, 2008Results from DV-2009 green card lottery