Devil in Details Over Immigration Reform Prospects

Immigration Reform National Politics

Shreveport     If the devil is in the details, vagueness about the specifics of the proposal on real immigration reform may be hell itself.

President Obama, speaking in Las Vegas, had it both ways.  He both encouraged quick action, threw roses to both the Republican and Democratic efforts, and repeated his “principles” for reform, but also said little in the way of specifics and once again indicated that his strategy would be to wait for their bill and only threaten to later come up with his own (when it would probably be way too late) if there were troubles.  Too much of this sounded to me like places we have visited too long in the past.  Certainly, the President was correct to reject  anymore of the Republican a priori of yet more enforcement first with a little reform later, but after that the lack of specificity, I find it scary.

How long might immigrants be stuck in the way stations along the “path” to citizenship?  Clearly not months from what the Republicans are indicating, so how many years?  And, would there be any protection while waiting?

When they talk about more workplace enforcement, are immigrants going to be allowed to keep jobs while they wait for citizenship.  Forcing people out of work that they have sometimes held for years and years is hardly reform and often a personal, family, and community tragedy.  Are we talking about going forward or more “match” programs going backwards?

Reuniting families is fantastic, but is this a fast track?  Can the Dreamers bridge their families into citizenship more quickly?

And, what about deportations, where the Obama Administration has set terrible records, will these cease during the debate?

Almost all of the statements I read from immigration reform advocates before the speech were hopeful, but tentative and waiting for the details.  I would be surprised if advocates felt reassured by Vegas.  We are mainly hanging in the wind still.

The New York Times saw some improvements in the President’s words compared to earlier proposals.

Mr. Obama released his own list of immigration-reform principles separately on Tuesday, and it is far better than the plan put forward by the senators. Besides the forceful language on citizenship, it offers ways to end backlogs in family-sponsored immigration, urges more staffing and improvements in immigration courts and added protections for immigrants who assert their labor rights. It also declares that members of same-sex couples should have the same opportunities to sponsor their partners for visas that others do.

One interesting tidbit in the news was a reminder of an old proposal for handling future flow by reforming the one-size fits all countries quota system that might impact on the issues of immigration and borders in the future.

One alternative might be a plan introduced by Senator Philip A. Hart, a Michigan Democrat, in the early 1960s. Senator Hart, who died in 1976, gave his name to the 1965 immigration law, along with Representative Emanuel Celler, a New York Democrat. But before that, he proposed a system that would have given 20 percent of the visas to refugees; 32 percent to countries in proportion to the size of their populations (recognizing need); and 48 percent to countries in proportion to their amount of emigration in the last 15 years (supporting family unification and existing ties in immigrant communities in the United States).

That’s what I would call a specific proposal that allows you to get your teeth into something and see where everyone stands and then move forward.

Platitudes about principles don’t add up to immigration reform.  Talk is cheap, no matter how sweet.