"He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." Isaiah 49:10

Monday, January 25, 2010

Immigration Reform - Not in 2010

By Fidel "Butch" Montoya

With the election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate and the fallout from the election still raining down, almost lost in the news of the week was the fact that South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham agreed to join New York Democrat Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Chuck Schumer in the fight for immigration. As a Republican, Graham is committed to tackling many of the difficult issues facing our country.

For a Republican to admit he is willing to work with Liberal New York Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer on passing comprehensive immigration reform, that is news. Non-partisan politics in this day and age is almost unheard of, in spite of the promise that candidate Obama made to work together with the other party.

Having a conservative Republican join a liberal Democrat, coming together to work on immigration reform, sets the stage for the formula for passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

Immigration leaders issued a statement refuting the fact that Brown’s election to the Senate dealt a death knoll to immigration reform. “Many naysayers and peddlers of conventional wisdom have already begun to write the obituary for President Obama’s agenda, including comprehensive immigration reform. But their thinking is exactly wrong. Unlike health care, comprehensive immigration reform has traditionally garnered bi-partisan support, and a path to victory in the United States Senate will require votes from both sides of the aisle.”

If there is any hope at all of passing comprehensive immigration reform, it is going to take members of the GOP joining Democrats who may have the will to pass reform. As we have seen from this democratically controlled Congress, being a Democrat does not mean one will vote for health care, much less immigration.

Passing comprehensive immigration reform is going to take strong Republicans and Democrats wanting to see justice and righteousness prevail.

Most polling indicates there is consensus that immigration reform should be addressed by the Congress. According to the Benenson Strategy Group, there is a strong support for passing comprehensive immigration reform, including from Republican voters.

The two top most pressing issues that Republicans feel the Congress should deal with are the economy and health care. 63% of Republican voters say the economy is the number one issue. Health care came in second with 54% of Republicans saying it was important.

With the issue of immigration, only 6% thought it was an issue Congress should tackle. It still rated higher than abortion, energy, or crime. When asked if Congress should pass comprehensive immigration reform, 62% of Republicans said yes, with only 26% saying no.

You would think with the findings of the Benenson Strategy Group, Democrats in the Congress would motivate the two parties to join together to share the findings of what seems like a workable partnership.

Even 88% of Republicans say that they support granting citizenship to immigrants as long as they met several conditions to be eligible for becoming citizens. This means “amnesty” to the fire brand racists and fear mongers in our country.

Yet, in spite of the political landscape that seems favorable to passing immigration reform, there is a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not reform can actually pass out of the Congress.

Latino Congressional leaders are trying to put the best face on the prospects of getting a reform bill through the Congress. With mid-term elections coming up, immigration still lurks out there as one of the most emotional and divisive issues facing our country.

With the economy on life support, the issue of immigration still fires up the fear of allowing 12 million immigrants to become citizens would mean fewer jobs for Americans. The fear that undocumented immigrants are taking jobs that Americans want to do.

Already blamed for contributing to the Great Recession, undocumented immigrants find themselves victims of the economy, losing hope for their families and dreams of a better future. But even with growing evidence that shows immigration reform would have a positive impact on the economy, the questions about passage persist.

The Center for American Progress and the Immigrants Policy Institute, issued a study, “Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of comprehensive Immigration Reform,” which plainly states the path to economic recovery must include comprehensive immigration reform.

According to the study,”immigration reform would create $1.5 trillion in added GDP over ten years and newly legalized workers would increase tax revenues by up to $5.4 billion in the first three years.” With such positive economic indicators, why would we not be demanding that our Congress vote for comprehensive immigration reform?

Imagine the long term financial benefits passage could have on our economy and deficit which threatens the economic future of our country. Is racism so strong in our country that we become blinded to do doing the right thing for ourselves, and undocumented immigrants?

Unprecedented town hall meetings across the country last week have brought together immigration proponents, faith leaders, union members, youth, educators, business leaders, and parents pushing for reform. Yet, the voices of opposition continue to grow and dim the hopes and dreams of 12 million undocumented immigrants.

Representative Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman believes advocates for immigration reform should continue the battle in 2010, but the odds for passage this year are not good.

In an interview in Roll Call, Grijalva said, “It’s going to be ugly, but I think we need to push it. Cam we get a bill? I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m ready for the fight, but I don’t know if we can win it.”

Grijalva feels Latino lawmakers have to continue pushing the issue because they cannot afford to go back home and say, “That nothing happened on the issue.” Realistically though, legislation cannot pass until 2011.

Another Congressional Hispanic Caucus member equally pessimistic about passage of immigration reform is Representative Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). “I want to see it, but practically, I just don’t see it.”

The problem with passage this year, are the mid-term elections where the anger and frustration of voters signaled a change in the landscape in the Senate. A seat held by the Democrats for over 46 years was lost, leaving Democrats reeling in disbelief.

Until President Obama realizes that jobs are the real issue and priority facing our country, and unless immigration proponents can make the case that immigration reform will in fact benefit the economy, fear and racism will win out…again. Cuellar says Democrats in swing districts could end up being hurt by voting for such a controversial issue as immigration reform.

So while news was being made about the changes in the Senate and what it may mean to the President’s agenda, the good news about how comprehensive immigration reform could have the most significant positive change on our economy, it all has become lost again because the old issues of hate, fear, racism, and stupidity have free rein.

And the odds of comprehensive immigration reform passing in 2010? Don’t hold your breath.


Fidel "Butch" Montoya is Director of H.S. Power and Light Ministries. He was the Vice President/News Director of KUSA Channel 9 News from 1985-1990, and worked at the news station for 24 years. Montoya also served as Deputy Mayor of City and County of Denver from 1995-1999; as the Manager of Public Safety for the City and County of Denver from 1994-2000. Montoya was Licensed to preach in 1972.

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