LatinaLista — The announcement this morning that senators had reached an agreement on immigration reform, and the subsequent press conference
held by Senators Marco Rubio, (R-FL); John McCain (R-AZ); Chuck Schumer (D-NY); Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), triggered a deluge of congratulatory press releases from major Latino organizations.
To see both Republicans and Democrats stand side by side and present their blueprint for immigration reform caused excitement among Latinos reminiscent of the 2008 presidential election between Obama and McCain. It also signaled another important milestone in Latino influence.
Sen. Schumer expressed it best as he characterized opposition to immigration reform holds more “political risk” than supporting it.
Dr. Jacob Vigdor, professor of economics at Duke University said, “In a very real sense, the immigration problem has actually solved itself, thanks to demographics and the weak economy.
“Hispanic voters, a growing percentage of the electorate, are too important to ignore, and this issue means a lot to them.”
It is evident from the blueprint that both parties understand the importance of bringing 11 million people out of the shadows but also working with the nation as its done.
According to the blueprint:
We will strengthen prohibitions against racial profiling and inappropriate use of force, enhance the training of border patrol agents, increase oversight, and create a mechanism to ensure a meaningful opportunity for border communities to share input, including critiques.
We recognize that Americans living along the Southwest border are key to recognizing and understanding when the border is truly secure. Our legislation will create a commission comprised of governors, attorneys general, and community leaders living along the Southwest border to monitor the progress of securing our border and to make a recommendation regarding when the bill’s security measures outlined in the legislation are completed.
For instance, individuals who entered the United States as minor children did not knowingly choose to violate any immigration laws. Consequently, under our proposal these individuals will not face the same requirements as other individuals in order to earn a path to citizenship.
Similarly, individuals who have been working without legal status in the United States agricultural industry have been performing very important and difficult work to maintain America’s food supply while earning subsistence wages. Due to the utmost importance in our nation maintaining the safety of its food supply, agricultural workers who commit to the long term stability of our nation’s agricultural industries will be treated differently than the rest of the undocumented population because of the role they play in ensuring that Americans have safe and secure agricultural products to sell and consume. These individuals will earn a path to citizenship through a different process under our new agricultural worker program.
While each of these measures underscore an understanding between senators and that portion of the Latino community fighting on behalf of undocumented immigrants, as well as undocumented immigrants themselves, there are still three challenges that make this far from a done deal — the House of Representatives, charging excessive amounts of money for back fines and back taxes and making reform contingent on border security.
Nobody argues that undocumented immigrants must pay some sort of fine, but it should also be remembered that they have been contributing to our society by paying sales tax on everything they buy — on minimum wages earned. To charge huge amounts of fines that would be out of reach for the average American family is to set them up for failure.
Congress should set fines but should set up a payment plan or make it a reasonable amount so that these families aren’t driven deeper into poverty, of which there would never be any escape.
The following measure, part of the blueprint, regurgitates an old GOP argument frequently heard during the Republican primary campaign:
Our legislation will provide a tough, fair, and practical roadmap to address the status of unauthorized immigrants in the United States that is contingent upon our success in securing our borders and addressing visa overstays.
Though study after study confirms that migration into the United States has slowed to a crawl, those Republicans against immigration reform have refused to believe it and have constantly used this point as a stalling measure to block any kind of reform.
Most of the members of the GOP who have seized on this point have been extremist conservatives or Tea Party favorites in the House. There is nothing to show that members of the House will embrace the bipartisanship blueprint as their colleagues have done in the Senate — even with their historical low approval ratings among the public.
It can only be hoped that members of the House don’t try to take one more self-righteous grandstand to prove a point that is abundantly clear to be neither politically advantageous or morally correct. Instead, they should listen to Professor Vigdor.
“To do reform the right way, though, Congress will have to stop obsessing about last decade’s problem — the porous Mexican border — and focus on the future,” said Professor Vigdor. “When the United States will be competing with other developed countries to attract the most talented, entrepreneurial workers.”
It might be a vision out of focus for some House members to see.