Immigration and the 110th Congress So Far: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
January 22, 2007
Washington, DC – The following is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization in Washington, DC.
The momentum is building. A growing number of the nation's political leaders are moving courageously in the right direction. They are responding to a frustrated public with pragmatic solutions instead of simplistic sound bites. They get that now is the time to step up and solve the problem of illegal immigration with a broad reform package that combines tough and targeted law enforcement strategies with practical and fair changes to our nation's legal immigration policies. The idea is simple and profound: put immigration on a legal footing and enforce realistic laws effectively so that we live up to our traditions as both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.
The positive signs abound. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has held Senate Bill S.9 as a place holder for comprehensive immigration reform among the first ten bills before the Senate, indicating his strong commitment to making immigration a legislative priority in 2007. In addition, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has repeatedly listed immigration as a key priority for this year. Just recently, a bipartisan group of Capital Hill leaders, led by Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), reintroduced the AgJOBS bill, a key component of comprehensive immigration reform in last year's Senate bill and a desperately needed priority for this year's immigration debate.
In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) (recently appointed to the House Judiciary Committee) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), and new House Immigration Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), have all indicated that comprehensive immigration reform will be taken up in a second wave of priorities.
Outside of Congress, a ground breaking alliance is coming together to get effective and bipartisan immigration reform across the finish line and onto the President’s desk this year. The Alliance for Immigration Reform 2007, consisting of key leaders from across the political spectrum -- business, labor, religious, ethnic, conservative, and pro-immigrant -- announced plans last week to fight hard for immigration reform to pass in the coming months.
Tomorrow night, the President has the opportunity to do his part to advance the cause of comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. We hope and expect he will make a strong statement in his State of the Union address recommitting himself to workable, bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform this year. His heartfelt commitment to this issue is not in doubt. Whether this will be a domestic policy priority will begin to be answered tomorrow.
So much for the good. Now for some of the bad. It seems that some members of the President's political party did not receive the memo from the nation on how immigration fared in last November’s election. It is now clear that the strategy of the former leadership in the House -- which spent the better part of last year demonizing immigrants, angering their families, and provoking the religious and community groups that serve them -- backfired badly with both swing voters who want a solution and Latino and immigrant voters who want respect. The anti-immigrant backlash that GOP House Leaders hoped to ride to reelection never took root and many of the hardest line anti-immigrant legislators were driven from office. Nevertheless, the current GOP House leadership, now in the minority, recently kept Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) from the House Judiciary Committee, reportedly because he has been a courageous leader on comprehensive immigration reform. Meanwhile, House Republican leaders filled the position of ranking minority on the House Immigration Subcommittee with Rep. Steve King (R-IA). Rep. King made waves last year when he suggested electrified fences on our border, arguing that such fencing works with livestock. He even held a press conference to show off a home made model. His proposal did not get traction on Capitol Hill, but it did lead Spanish language TV news and drew laughs in the late night fake news shows.
And now for the ugly. Just last week the Republican Party became engulfed in a spat over the nomination of Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), a strong supporter of comprehensive reform, to be the General Chairman of the Republican Party. A number of RNC delegates proudly trumpeted their opposition to Senator Martinez with aggressive attacks and nasty undertones. Fortunately, Senator Martinez showed the grace and poise his opponents lacked on his way to election. Finally, we were deeply dismayed, but not surprised, by the findings of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General’s report on immigrant detention conditions last week. Sadly, detention conditions are poor and minimal due process rights of immigrant detainees undermined, reflecting that this aspect of our immigration system is just as dysfunctional as many others. If we are to restore the rule of law to our broken immigration system, then we need to restore a system of checks and balances that enforces intelligently-conceived laws while vigilantly rooting out abuses and mismanagement on the part of federal authorities.
We look forward to a serious debate about serious solutions in 2007, and we challenge one and all to come to the table with thoughtful proposals on how to modernize our antiquated immigration system. We have been around long enough to expect “the bad” and “the ugly” to get more than its fair share of air time in the upcoming debate. But this is the year to make sure that “the good” gets a full hearing so that a solution gets done.