As thousands of undocumented Central American migrants, including many unaccompanied children, continue to pour across the border, the consensus among immigration experts is that any reform efforts have ended. However, federal lawmakers who have championed legalization for undocumented immigrants say immigration reform still has a chance in Congress.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that immigration reform can still pass the House this year,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. “Although there are many who say immigration reform is a long shot, I remind them that many difficult bills have passed with hurdles that seemed insurmountable.”
Even if Congress adopts the immigration reform bill the Senate approved last year, it may still not be enough to benefit all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country or the hundreds of thousands of additional unauthorized foreign nationals who have arrived since the cutoff date in the legislation – including the almost 50,000 unaccompanied minors received at the border since Oct. 1.
Under the Senate bill, which most immigration activists want the House to adopt, perhaps no more than nine million undocumented immigrants present in the country as of Dec. 31, 2011, would be allowed to stay.
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Those who have arrived after that date – plus others who, for one reason or another, do not qualify under the bill – would still face deportation.
The realization that immigration reform may not fix the broken system has led some experts to propose that President Barack Obama use his executive powers to grant legal status to large numbers of unauthorized immigrants – regardless of whether Congress acts.
Miami immigration attorney Tammy Fox-Isicoff, who heads the media committee of the South Florida chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), has proposed that undocumented immigrants who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens be “paroled in place” – much in the same way that arriving Cuban immigrants without visas are allowed to stay.
For now, prospects appear less than dim for congressional immigration reform because of the recent defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who was perceived as favoring immigration reform. Cantor’s defeat in a Virginia Republican primary was seen as a signal to congressional leaders who advocate reform to abandon it or face defeat in the November midterm elections.
Also, the unaccompanied children’s crisis at the border hasn’t helped matters.
“I am concerned by how this catastrophe seems to have caught the Administration off guard and without an adequate mitigation plan,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican and one of authors of the Senate immigration reform bill.
“The current situation stands in stark contrast to the assurances the American people have gotten from this Administration in recent years that the southwest border is already secure,” Rubio said in a June 13 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
Besides the children, tens of thousands of Central American adults also are crossing the border in higher numbers, according to U.S. officials.
Despite concerns about weak border controls, Rubio has indicated recently that he still believes immigration reform is necessary, that it’s an issue “that is hurting America and needs to be addressed.”
While the Senate passed the bipartisan immigration reform bill, which Rubio co-authored with seven other lawmakers, the House has not offered its own version. A bipartisan bill Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., has not been filed. A bill that essentially mirrors the Senate bill, written by Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla.
Diaz-Balart says in his website: “We need comprehensive immigration reform. We need to strengthen our border security, and we need to address the immigration issues inside our borders. One without the other will resolve nothing.”