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Tripping Over Immigration Reform…Again

January 27, 2009

Until A Strategy For Reform Is In Place, Congress Will Continue To Stumble Over Immigration And Immigrants On Every Bill


Washington, DCThis week, Congress considers reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in the Senate and passage of the President’s stimulus package (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) in the House.  Both bills have come under attack related to immigrants and immigration.  On health care, the effort to allow states to waive a five-year waiting period to cover legal immigrants and pregnant women in SCHIP has been opposed by some who feel we should not be covering legal immigrant children or that restrictions against covering undocumented immigrants are not stringent enough.  Meanwhile, a House subcommittee attached language to the stimulus bill that would make the controversial E-Verify electronic worker verification system mandatory for all businesses or other public and private entities that get funds through the bill.  The following is a statement by Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a non-partisan pro-immigrant advocacy group in Washington. 


This week, immigration issues distracted Congress from the dire need to help our economy recover and for children to get health care coverage.


We cannot afford to slow down every bill and allow every debate to devolve into an immigration food fight.  The way to solve this is to have the immigration debate on its own merits, deal with it, and move on to other issues and to do it sooner rather than later.


Using the immigration issue as a partisan bludgeon should surprise no one.  The leadership in both Houses of Congress is reacting to the dying vestiges of a strategy that uses immigration as a wedge issue.  Instead, leadership should lead with an affirmative agenda to pass broad immigration reform and cut off these wasteful immigration amendment battles on unrelated topics.  Without a plan, these distracting and painful skirmishes will flair up on every bill that moves.


President Barack Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the rest of the Administration must exert some leadership so that a clear plan for immigration reform is articulated and every other item on the President’s agenda is not derailed or delayed.


The stimulus package should be the stimulus package and health care for children should be health care for children.  Making either or both an immigration issue is simply a delay tactic, as well as a way of scuttling progress on issues that matter to the American people. Immigration is not a border wall to improving the health of our country and our people.


Every child ought to have health coverage without having to wait five years to become eligible.  We know almost all of these children will live their entire lives in the United States and raise their children here, so delaying or denying them access to health care is shooting ourselves in the foot. 


Our ailing economy needs help now.  Delaying aid while we wait for businesses, local governments, hospitals, and contractors to sign up for what we know is a flawed worker verification system doesn’t make sense.  E-Verify should be dealt with as part of a broader fix to our immigration system.  Injecting it into the stimulus package just guarantees more gridlock and delay.


Immigrant and Latino voters turned out in record numbers in November and now expect this Congress and this President to deal with immigration rationally, humanely, and fully.  The time has passed to let the tail wag the dog and have politicians get away with seeing our broken immigration system as an opportunity or a partisan tool.  It’s time we stop using immigrants and immigration as a divisive issue in a game of partisan football and start seeing immigration as a problem with clear solutions that can be achieved.


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Follow this link for an essay by Ali Noorani for New America Media, “Immigration Reform: Yes we Can?”

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