Editor’s Note: The Selective Echo asked frequent contributor Mark Alvarez, an attorney and the state’s best informed source with regard to immigration, to pen a piece about the prospects for immigration reform after the elections. While the issue does not seem to weigh significantly in most voters’ minds among the more prominent priorities, there is plenty of judiciously studied, empirically-rich evidence that underscores how immigration reform will benefit the nation as a whole. We do think it significant in this particular piece that a well-known Utah Republican politician wisely and correctly identified the most salient obstacles to achieving consensus on how immigration reform could be shaped. Out of respect and courtesy, we do not name that particular official.
Though entrapped in the political games of this election cycle, immigration reform appears possible in 2013. Outdated laws badly mismatched to supply and demand hold back development of the economy and its participants.
The United States can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to an undocumented population of more than 11 million. The government cannot look the other way as hotels, restaurants, construction, agriculture and other business sectors hire undocumented workers out of economic necessity.
Much of the outline for immigration reform is basic and not really in dispute. A visa system that dates to 1965 must be updated to match societal and economic needs. Rigid quotas that impede recruitment of talent to the U.S. should be reworked or scrapped. These include country-specific quotas.
Immigrants admitted to the U.S. should be better integrated into the society. Improved welcoming and orientation programs are needed, as is greater understanding of immigration as a regional and international issue.
Recently, a Republican politician whose need for anonymity is respected here, signaled three important obstacles to reform:
1. Mean or cold-hearted people
2. People who do not know much about the issue
3. Politicians who pander before different audiences
To address the first obstacle, it is important to tell the stories of the undocumented and show how they contribute through determination, hard work and values. A personalization or humanization of the undocumented will help those Americans who may find empathy difficult.
To address the second obstacle, solid legal and economic arguments should be presented. For example, many Americans do not know how difficult it is to come here with proper immigration status, how difficult or impossible it is to legally adjust to status or maintain it after arrival.
Routes to proper immigration status are practically impossible for many workers whose presence here equates to economic necessity for their employers. That’s plainly a problem, but some immigration opponents are unaware of it.
While there are costs, undocumented immigration brings many benefits as well. More transparent analysis and presentation of data would be helpful. But again, a bottom line is that costly or beneficial, most undocumented immigrants are not going anywhere. It’s a fact that requires substantive conversation and action.
The third obstacle may be the hardest to address. As long as there are votes to be gotten and popularity to be gained, many, perhaps most, politicians will pander to audiences: one cannot take the “politics” out of politics. Politicians on difficult issues rarely lead public opinion. They are much more prone to follow it, sometimes to the point of encouraging sclerosis.
Therefore, the real challenge is to change public opinion, much more easily written than done. Fortunately on immigration, points for reform have clarified.
In Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court clarified that immigration was a federal authority. States have harmed their economies and their budgets on futile efforts to legislate in this area. They seem to have come to the realization that an effort by Congress is needed.
On immigration, final points concerning politics are inescapable. President Barack Obama disappointed immigrant advocates by not addressing broad reform during his first term. However, he did support a DREAM Act that failed in the Senate largely because of Republican obstruction and the supermajority requirement for cloture. In July 2011, the Obama administration published rules on prosecutorial discretion for low-priority immigration cases. In June 2012, leniency in the form of deferred action was approved for undocumented youth who arrived as children. Obama has reiterated a commitment to broader reform.
Candidate Mitt Romney largely hewed to an anti-immigrant line through the Republican primaries and much of the general election season. Nevertheless, his statement on October 1, 2012 made clear he would not revoke benefits for those who had applied for deferred action. This is a drastic shift from categorical opposition to the DREAM Act. But to buttress the shift, Romney promised permanent immigration reform if he were elected. What kind of reform remains an unanswered question.
The stories of undocumented immigrants have warmed hearts, informed people and influenced the course of conversation concerning immigration. These stories and the pressure they generate should continue through reform efforts in 2013.
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