By Linda Hartke
Immigration reform: Will we see it in 2013? That’s the burning question on everyone’s mind this year.
A complicated debate and legislative process lie ahead. Here to decipher the headlines for you every Monday is THE UPDATE, a weekly blog series whose panel of experts will analyze how recent events affect the prospects for real reform. The panelists will offer an insider’s view of what’s happening right now on Capitol Hill, bolstered by their decades of experience with immigration reform and the legislative process.
Given the most recent developments, are we getting any closer to immigration reform? Here’s what the panelists have to say:
Mary Giovagnoli, Director, Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Council
From an incomplete, leaked version of the White House immigration bill, to the dramatic announcement of joint principles between the AFLCIO and the Chamber of Commerce on visa reform, it was another intense week on the immigration front.
Both actions have continued to push momentum forward, perhaps in unexpected ways. The leaked draft of a White House bill pretty much mirrored the President’s reform principles announced in Las Vegas in January, but the news of the leak started a rush of condemnation from some Republican leaders who warned that if the President tried to strong arm Congress, it would backfire.
Instead, by the end of the week, the President and key Republicans — Senators McCain, Graham, and Rubio — had spoken on the phone, with the President reassuring them that the country is looking to the Senate to lead and deliver legislation — and soon.
Policy folks have started drilling down on the leaked version of the bill, and will be making suggestions to both the White House and Congress for improvements. Ironically, the leak could give the Senate an opportunity to win points by adopting more favorable positions on some issues than reflected in the White House bill.
At the same time, clearly absent from the bill were the President’s plans for future flow, visa reforms and temporary workers. This made Thursday’s announcement of joint principles between labor and business a very important and welcome development.
Temporary worker issues, in particular, have been one of the trickiest and most delicate issues to maneuver in the immigration debate — even more so than legalization.
While the principles aren’t yet a detailed roadmap, they do represent agreement on some key points — business should try to hire American workers first, there are times, especially when the economy is good, when the supply of labor is insufficient and foreign workers are necessary, and that information is key, meaning that some form of a federal agency that tracks the need for workers and industries, giving us data that we’ve never really had in immigration before, will be a likely component of a Senate bill. Good news, overall, that keeps us on track for immigration reform this week.
Lisa Sharon Harper, Director of Mobilizing, Sojourners
On Sunday, a story in USA Today revealed a leaked draft of immigration reform legislation being prepared by the White House. While pundits parsed it looking for controversy, the draft bill revealed nothing new about the president’s principles for immigration reform.
This week also saw encouraging developments taking place on the ground. On Thursday, the Evangelical Immigration Table hosted a lively conference call with pastors, activists, and lay leaders from across the nation who have taken up the “I Was a Stranger Challenge.”
Churches, Christian colleges, and networks across the country are committing to read 40 scriptures about immigration over 40 days. On Feb. 20, the Dallas Morning News published a front-page article about how conservatives are now rallying for just immigration reform.
Despite the latest reports about his own plans, the president is urging Congress to take leadership on this issue. The senate, led by the bipartisan “Gang of 8,” should follow its original goal of drafting legislation by March and vote before the August recess. We must remember: every minute we waste, individuals and families are suffering. This is not about politics; it is about people.
Brittney Nystrom, LIRS Director for Advocacy, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Some intrigue was injected into immigration reform conversations last week when a bill to reform the immigration system authored by the White House was leaked. Despite all the drama and attention this leak created in D.C. circles, the existence of the unofficial bill merely proved President Obama meant what he said. If Congress doesn’t introduce a bill soon enough to please the president, he’ll release his own version.
The president also phoned Senate Republicans who are drafting a bipartisan reform bill after the leak, leaving no doubt that he is willing to give the Congressional process time to mature. The way I figure it, a little mystery and excitement never hurt legislative odds.
Indeed, the leak kept immigration reform front and center during the Presidents’ Day recess. Meanwhile, business and labor leaders released a joint statement of principles for immigration reform. A coalition of business, faith and law enforcement leaders in Texas also issued a “Texas Compact” to set forth their common principles for a new immigration policy.
These efforts are just a few examples of the widespread and popular support for reforming the U.S. immigration system. There’s clearly movement in the right direction, meaning the odds we’ll see meaningful reform are inching upward.
THE UPDATE will appear every Monday until the dust settles on the legislative battle over comprehensive immigration reform. If you wish to raise your voice for fair reform, please visit our Action Center. You can also learn more about the issues by reading an interview with someone personally impacted by America’s broken immigration system, Jessica Colotl.