National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


Will Enough Senators Step Up and Show Leadership on Immigration Reform, or Will the Champions of the Status Quo Prevail?

June 25, 2007

Washington, DC - The following is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum.

This will be a decisive week.  To a large extent, decisions made by the U.S. Senate will determine whether this Congress has the courage and determination to tackle immigration reform.  To proceed to the debate and bring it to a conclusion, 60 votes on successive cloture motions will be needed.  To then be approved, the Senate bill will require a majority vote in favor of final passage.  If any of these votes fails, the consequences could be grim.  It could well mean that a much-needed comprehensive overhaul of our nation's immigration system will be dead for this Congress.

The stakes for the U.S. Senate are high.  Voters sent an unmistakable message in the last election: solve problems, or else.  Despite the loud protests from some, poll after poll shows that the majority of voters want their leaders to address immigration reform this year, and a majority of voters support the key elements of the comprehensive bill before the Senate. 

The voters get it.  They want solutions, not slogans.  They want their elected representatives to stand up for sensible reforms favored by the majority and stand up to vocal interest groups determined to block such reforms.  They hunger for statesmanship and legislative success, and decry politicians who always seem to find a way to get to no, and then follow up with a predictable and almost ritualistic round of finger-pointing. 

This coming week, then, we will find out if enough Senators get it.  Will a critical mass display courage and practice bipartisan cooperation?  Or will the body serve up inaction and polarization?

The stakes for immigrant workers and families are also high.  They know better than all of us the high cost of the dysfunctional status quo.  They know what it's like to leave their homes every day fearful of a workplace raid or an encounter with enforcement agents that will leave their families separated and their futures ruined.  They know that if reform fails this week, the coming years are likely to be marked by more deaths in the desert, more workplace exploitation, more knocks on the door by ICE agents, and more state and local policies aimed at driving them deeper into society's shadows.  Moreover, they know the pain of explaining to their children why their hard work and sacrifice is viewed by others as criminal.

And finally, the stakes for our future as a nation of noble ideas and cherished values are high.  The 20th century emerged as the American Century because we as a nation repeatedly rose to the occasion, tackled tough problems, and put our optimism and pragmatism to work in the service of our nation's most deeply-held ideals: freedom, safety, fairness, opportunity, and tolerance.  What about this century?  Will we rise to the occasion, say no to those bent on narrowness and exclusion, and say yes to a nation strong enough to embrace rather than fear those who risk their lives to do our dirty work and build a better life for their families? 

So, we encourage each and every Senator to carefully consider the stakes and the consequences of their votes this week.  The nation and the world are watching.  Senate votes this week will indicate whether we are prepared to be, once again, both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.  For that is the purpose of the Senate bill: to end illegal immigration and replace it with a legal system that is enforceable and realistic.  Yes, we all have problems with numerous aspects of the bill.  Yes, we will have to run the gauntlet of "poison pill" amendments and procedural delaying tactics.  Yes, it is likely that the final Senate bill will be far from perfect and will need to be improved in the House and in conference to realize the goal we all have of ending illegal immigration, once and for all. But if Senators say yes to killer amendments, we won't have the chance to fight another day.  If they say no this week on cloture or final passage, we won't have the chance to improve it.  If Senators say no this week, for all intents and purposes, it's over. 

And this is not a matter in which a no vote says "let's go back to the drawing board."  It will be a vote that locks in place a dysfunctional system, perhaps for years to come.  It will be a vote for a status quo destined to get worse.  We offer an alternative, Senators.  Do the thing that inspired you to run for office in the first place.  Do the right thing and move the Senate bill forward.

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