National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


At Year’s End, Where Are We On Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

December 23, 2005

Washington DC - As 2005 winds down and Congress wraps up for the holidays, advocates for comprehensive immigration reform are looking to next year and to the U.S. Senate.  According to Senate leadership, we can expect a debate early next year on measures that address immigration reform in ways that go beyond the enforcement-only approach embodied in legislation recently passed by the House of Representatives. The following is a statement by Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization in Washington.

2005 began with promise as the President again turned to immigration reform after his 2004 election victory.  By spring, bipartisan bills to comprehensively address immigration reform and border security were introduced in both Houses of Congress.  The most forward-thinking of them, the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005, was introduced May 12 by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in the Senate and Reps. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) in the House. 

It was a remarkable year of organizing and advocacy.  Immigrant communities, religious leaders, and business and labor organizations began to raise their voices for a more realistic way of managing and regulating immigration.  More than 200 editorials embracing comprehensive immigration reform and the Secure America Act were published by nearly 100 newspapers across the country.  Hearings held during the summer in the Senate Judiciary Committee suggested the Senate would move swiftly to consider the Secure America Act and other legislative proposals.  However, Supreme Court nominations and other business delayed Senate action until next year.

In the meantime, the House leadership responded to organizing and advocacy of a different sort.  Egged on by the simplistic protests of talk radio hosts, talk television hosts, and Minutemen, the House leadership went first.  Intentionally ignoring calls from responsible leaders in both chambers, in both parties, and from the White House, House leaders deliberately kept any hint of comprehensive reform from being considered.  Instead, they passed the harshest piece of enforcement-only, anti-immigration legislation in seventy years. 

The House-passed bill relies on the failed enforcement-only approaches that have not worked for two decades.  A $2.2 billion wall and sweeping new criminal penalties for citizens and legal immigrants continues the charade that the way to gain control of our borders is to suppress immigration, driving more immigrants further into the black market.  In a year in which the debate seemed to be moving forward towards a workable solution, House leaders took a giant leap backwards by passing its bill.  The hollowness of the political exercise brought on by House leaders desperate for a cheap win was brought home by the numerous Republicans and Democrats who stood up to declare that enforcement alone - which is what the House bill promised - will not fix America's immigration woes until our laws are made enforceable.

Unfortunately, even if the unworkable and punitive measures in the House bill never become law, the bill could have significant consequences.  By polarizing and dumbing down the debate over a serious policy matter, hardliners in the House threaten to derail the enactment of legislation that will deliver operational control of the border and coherent regulation of immigration flows.  Those House leaders who railed about illegality on the House floor just made it harder to craft a policy that will effectively reduce illegality by restoring the rule of law at the border and in the workplace.

Next year, the Senate will address immigration and border security issues.  Instead of the wedge politics just witnessed in the House, the Senate is expected to have a serious discussion of how to create a safe, legal and orderly immigration system that works for the American people.  We certainly hope so. 

It is time to get back to the serious business at hand.  Instead of slogans, let's debate solutions.  Instead of indulging the fiction that 11 million people already here illegally, raising families, working, and paying taxes will somehow be dislodged from jobs and leave the country, let's debate how best to bring them out of the shadows so that they are known to the government and part of a legal, orderly process.  Instead of pretending that 5,000 visas a year for full-time service workers is enough when the annual flow of such workers is estimated at 500,000, let's debate how to best address the mismatch between the supply of legal immigration visas in our immigration system and the demand for legal immigration created by our economy.  Instead of ignoring the huge backlogs and long delays that divide families for years, even decades, let's debate how to reduce family backlogs so that our overall system is anchored in fairness and balance.  And instead of playing wedge politics and election-year games with an important policy issue, let's forge a bipartisan majority for workable reforms that will deliver what the American people want: an orderly immigration system that lives up to our traditions as both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. 


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