Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Double-edged Immigration Sword

I'm very surprised to see how fast an immigration bill draft has been sent to the Senate floor, where legislators will debate its provisions probably all the way to June, according to the New York Times. If passed, the bill will be sent to the House of Representatives, where it will likely face fierce opposition from a Republican majority. It will be a very emotional battle, but it will also be a deciding moment for President Obama and about 11 million immigrants from all over the world who are living in an underground economy.

This immigration breakthrough comes at a time when everyone's attention is focused on the Oklahoma victims and the most recent political controversies in Washington: The tapping of the Associated Press phones by the federal officials, an inquiry into the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS, and the accusations that top level officials manipulated the facts of the Benghazi attack that killed US Ambassador, Christopher Stevens, to save face during the presidential election. Opponents of the president are trying to bring back memories of President Richard Nixon's Watergate, and of President Bill Clinton's impeachment.

If the inquiries of the IRS and Benghazi find involvement of top-level State Department officials like Hillary Clinton, or from the White House, things could get really ugly. And if the immigration bill fails, the administration's political agenda could be completely derailed. This would follow the Senate's failure to pass a watered-down gun law introduced just months after 20 children and their teachers were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary, in Newtown, Conn.

President Obama has faced fierce opposition from far-right conservative groups since he first became president. Politicians like Senator Mitch McConnell had even said that they wanted Mr. Obama to be a "one-time president,"  mounting relentless opposition to the President's political agenda, especially his health care law, which is aimed at reducing insurance costs and protecting those with medical preconditions.

Again, it's a little surprising immigration reform is advancing in Washington in spite of the latest feud between Republicans ans and Democrats. Well, at least for now... The House of Representatives has drafted at least two versions of their own, and according to the New York Times the House bills are very different from the Senate's bipartisan committee version. Also, the two major unions that represent deportation agents and  immigration employees are joining to attack the legislation.

A defeat of the immigration bill would be a double-edged sword. It would hurt President Obama and his legacy. But it would hurt the Republicans even more in the long term, as they will be effectively branded as xenophobic and anti-immigrant for generations. Republicans might as well call last year's presidential elections a referendum on them. An overwhelming 71% of Latinos voted for President Obama, and 27% for Mitt Romney. In contrast, President Bush got 44% of the Latino vote in 2004. That's a huge loss of Latino support for the Republicans, and many point to the anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions as the cause.

On the other hand, passage of immigration reform would integrate millions of people into society, and this country will repeat a cycle that's been happening since the foundation of this country: Millions of people from all over the world fleeing from violence, hunger and poverty get here no matter at what cost, hoping to start a better life. The United States would continue to be the melting pot that many like to call it, a place which has been built by immigrants from all over the world, generation after generation.

Link to Spanish version.