By Paolo von Schirach
January 29, 2013
WASHINGTON – In perennially divided and dysfunctional Washington it seems that Republicans and Democrats may have found enough common ground to hatch a decent immigration reform plan that may actually get enough votes and a presidential signature.
Immigration as a priority
Of all the burning issues on the policy makers agenda –budget, debt ceiling, fiscal and tax reform– this is not the most urgent. But it may have risen to the top because the Republicans may have finally realized that they need to end their stupid and self-destructive opposition to legalizing an estimated 12 million people (mostly from Central America and Mexico) here in the US but without legal status.
Romney’s immigration policy
We do remember that Mitt Romney (incredibly) argued during the campaign that he favored “self-deportation” as a solution for illegal immigration. By that he meant that, if we really enforced labor laws and other provisions, illegal immigrants would have no jobs and therefore would be forced to pack and go away. Neat idea. Except that it was and is a colossal idiocy. Imagine 12 million people, some of them in the US for decades, packing and leaving. Very practical, no?
Romney’s totally insane positions on immigration contributed to his defeat in November. The GOP got less than 30% of the Hispanic vote. In some states these low numbers meant assured defeat, given the large numbers of Latino voters.
GOP learnt a lesson?
Well, may be the Republicans in Congress learnt something and therefore now are eager to to appear in favor of reform. At least some of them, (like Cuban American Florida Senator Marco Rubio) want to be in front.
Hard to say what the final product will look like. Still, there seems to be a good chance to get bipartisan consensus on a at least a broad policy goal. The shared objective (so far) is to pass legislation that will create a path to legal status for illegal immigrants. That said, the road to legalization can be made easy or extra complicated.
Easy or hard path to legal status?
If the Republicans are worried about resistance from their conservative core, they will (stupidly again) fight to create an obstacle course for illegals that will become a source of frustration and resentment. Indeed, if you make it too complicated and costly to apply for and then finally obtain legal status, creating a never ending process requiring too much documentation that needs to be checked and approved, accompanied by heavy fines and an endless waiting list, this would defy the policy goal.
I do agree with imposing restrictions for people with criminal records. But if we want to make sure that everybody paid all their taxes and what not (how do you check that, anyway?) this “reform” will soon become a bad story –with all the blame going to those (once more the wicked Republicans in the House) who insisted on making it harder rather than easy to become a legal resident.
Make it as easy as possible
I favor a quick path. We may include fines, but they have to be mostly symbolic, not punitive. As to the principled (again, mostly Republican)insistence that first we must certify that the border is secure and only then we may proceed with immigration reform, I say enough of this nonsense. The US- Mexico border is not totally sealed, but it is mostly secure. Of course, the virtual end of the South to North flow we have seen in recent years has to do mostly with the US recession that halted demand for cheap labor. But some credit should be given to improved border controls.
While in the case of this proposed legislation the devil is really in the details I am reasonably confident that most Republicans will do their best to show that they aren’t dragging their feet. They want to give the impression that they are reasonable and humane people eager to solve an old mess that is really inconsistent with a country ruled by laws.
Remember: this is about citizenship, not about working legally
In all this I really hope to see immigrants fully integrated into the American main stream. The inability to have access to legal status contributed to the creation of ethnic ghettos in which the illegals could more easily hide. As a result we have large pockets of people in America who are here only for economic reasons and who are separated by language and status from the larger society. This is bad.
Immigration reform will be a real success if and when most, if not all, of these residents with no status will be real citizens, with a genuine allegiance, not just to their communities, their families and their jobs, but to the United States of America.
American is mostly about shared values, not about jobs
The Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution –after which a legal resident becomes a US citizen–should not be viewed as a formality, something that needs to get done to compete an administrative process. It should be viewed for what it is intended to be: a reasoned and willful declaration of allegiance to the values of this country, for whose protection and enjoyment the Founding Fathers created our institutions. (The very end of the Oath places the burden of sincere allegiance on the immigrant: “…And I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion…”. This means that I take I take this step of choosing American citizenship because I really want to and mean it).
America is founded on citizens who share and uphold basic values; and not on people seeking mostly economic opportunity. If this country wishes to endure, let’s make sure that all of us, old and new citizens, remember that we are here because we share a vision and not just an economy.