On immigration reform, call a timeout
That's not going to go down very well with the people who are banking their lives on a near-term reform that will allow them to attain the "better life" they came for. And I'm certainly not saying anyone has to give up the fight. Rather, just be realistic that the system will remain every bit as dysfunctional as it is today for some time to come.
Various versions of the DREAM Act and comprehensive reform bills have been routinely shot down in Washington for 10 agonizing years. Wouldn't an official timeout and knowing where things will stand for the next few years be better than yet another decade of false hopes and broken promises?
After closely watching the back and forth on various schemes that have been floated by the two political parties, I'm seeing, more than ever before, that with the still-decimated economy, and with the ideological rift between Republicans and Democrats, there is just no way immigration reform will pass in the next several years. The rancor is just too high.
One example, of many, is how the two ends of the immigration debate appear to exist in separate galaxies when it comes to perceiving illegal immigration.
On Monday, hours before he went on TV to complain that the Republicans weren't playing ball on a debt-ceiling compromise and asking the American people to solve the crisis themselves by pressuring their elected representatives directly, President Obama -- whom I will hereafter think of as the do-it-yourself president -- told a fawning crowd at the annual National Council of La Raza conference that it was their responsibility to find him a willing Republican "dance partner" for a reform push.
It was a rerun of his May speech at the Mexican border that glossed over his record number of deportations and also asked his audience to, basically, get off their duffs and start pushing reform -- as if people in that crowd hadn't been doing so since 2005, when the crackdown on illegal immigrants began.
What Obama got for his trouble was a chanting La Raza crowd that begged/demanded he take leadership on the issue and enact specific protections for individuals who might benefit from passage of the DREAM Act, which would be a path to legalization for young immigrants who vow to attend college or serve in the military. The president, whom many activists call the deporter in chief, said he couldn't do that and took yet another pass on the issue.
The very next day, over in the La-La Land where Obama is seen as a secret agent for "back-door amnesty" despite having removed about close to 1 million illegal immigrants in the past two years, the Republicans were plotting. On Tuesday, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, was busy pushing the HALT Act -- it stands for Hinder the Administration's Legalization Temptation -- which would forbid Obama from making exceptions on immigration policy.
What color is the sky in Smith's world?
Any rational immigration reform will put the needs of our nation ahead of the wants of particular niche voters and advocacy groups. It will require nuanced, data-driven conversations and a willingness for leaders on both sides to make significant compromises that will cause much unhappiness.
If the arms-crossed-on-the-chest partisan demagoguing that has characterized the debt-ceiling debate is any indication, this kind of rational decision-making seems out of the question in the near future.
Elected representatives with the guts to tell it like it is will stop stringing their reform-minded constituencies along by promising that the next year, the next Congress or the next president will bring the realistic opportunity to make the immigration laws work.
Such honesty would be a tragic admission for millions of people whose lives hang in the balance. But the worse alternative is yet another decade of thinking their situation will somehow improve when the political reality is that there's little to no chance of that happening anytime soon.
Last updated: 5:47 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012