It was two years ago this month that the immigration debate in Congress fell flat on its face. Now there is a new effort to get immigration reform through Congress, and its proponents are convinced that this time it will not fail. The question is, Why now and not then?
It's actually a combination of several factors. The most obvious is that there is a new president. Barack Obama promised to push for a bill that would include both border security and the road to legalization of undocumented immigrants during his first year in office.
However, that alone will not be enough.
Let's not forget that President George W. Bush also was a supporter of immigration reform. Unfortunately, by the time Bush was pushing for it, he had spent all his political capital and was unable to influence members of his own party. Obama, on the other hand, is just getting started.
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With Democrats being the main proponents of immigration reform, it should be easier to get a bill passed now that they have even higher numbers in Congress. But that's not a given, either. Many Democrats voted against immigration reform two years ago, after the bill was watered down.
To get a bill through Congress, there will have to be support by at least some Republicans, and this time around there are some political incentives. Since 2007, several anti-immigrant legislators lost their bid for re-election because of their tough stand and heated rhetoric. Case in point: the king of immigrant bashing, former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo. The question is if they are willing to take yet another political hit by opposing immigration reform.
In Washington, a coalition of about 200 groups consisting of 800 activists just launched the "Reform Immigration for America" campaign. It is a larger and better-organized coalition, determined to use every lobbying effort not just to influence Capitol Hill, but to change public opinion on the importance of fixing our broken immigration system.
As Obama was to meet with congressional leaders to discuss immigration reform, the administration had been sending a few encouraging signals. The Justice Department reversed a ruling from the Bush administration that denied potential deportees the right to a hearing if their cases had been mishandled. Then the Department of Homeland Security temporarily suspended deportations of widows who did not legalize their status before their U.S.-born spouse died. And several recent court rulings have gone in favor of immigration-raid victims whose civil rights have been violated.
Immigration reform is necessary. Local and state efforts to establish their own anti- immigrant laws in lieu of federal immigration reform have been deemed unconstitutional in most cases. The negative tone of the immigration debate has led to an increase in hate crimes and discrimination, which affects all Latinos, legal or not. The estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants are still here; they have gone back into the shadows, hiding and living in fear. The longer we wait, the more undocumented immigrants will be here, and the bigger the problem will become. The time has come for comprehensive immigration reform.
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