Editorials | December 2006
|Immigration Reform: Finally?|
Domenico Maceri - PVNN
Now that Democrats have regained control of Congress, President George Bush will have to compromise in the last two years of his term. One area where compromise won’t be necessary is immigration reform. The President’s position was very close to the Democrats’ before the midterm election and it looks like that reform will finally come about.
|U.S. President George W. Bush speaks about immigration reform at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington June 1, 2006. (Reuters/Larry Downing)|
The bipartisan bill on immigration passed by the U.S. Senate in May of 2006 reflected Bush’s broad outlines. Some efforts were made to reconcile it with the one passed by the House, but the two versions were so different that nothing came of it.
The Senate bill was much more moderate and “friendly” to immigrants than the House version. Under the Senate plan, undocumented workers who have been in the country five years or more would be granted a path to becoming citizens. They would have to pay significant fines and learn English. The House made no such provision.
The other positive aspect of the Senate bill is the creation of a guest workers program which would allow new people to come into the country legally if U.S. companies cannot find Americans to fill certain jobs.
This would be a significant benefit to agricultural interests, particularly in California, which lately have seen a reduction of available farm workers. If the trend continues, business will incur significant losses because of lack of workers.
Yet, the Senate version includes a number of features that resemble the House plan. Undocumented workers who have been in the U.S. between two and five years would have to leave the country and apply for re-entry. Those with fewer than two years of residency would have no recourse and would have to leave the country permanently.
For all practical purposes, only people who have been in the country at least five years might have a chance at permanent status.
Both the House and Senate bill would increase enforcement by building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. The component of the wall has already been generated through the Secure Fence Act which President Bush has already signed. Yet, the wall may never be built because the Democrats in Congress are unlikely to appropriate the necessary funds.
Now that the Democrats control the political legislative agenda, the Draconian version of the House bill on immigration will probably die out. Illegal entry into the U.S. will not become a federal crime but will go back to being a misdemeanor and people helping undocumented workers will not be considered criminals.
Although the Republicans in Congress are now the minority, some will scream “amnesty” at the immigration reform that will emerge and will try to use it for political advantage in the next election.
Congressman Tom Tancredo, (R-Colorado), is one of the most vocal opponents of the guest worker program. He recently stated that a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats will block any attempt at legalizing unauthorized immigrants.
Tancredo will be proven wrong. The Latino vote, which went to Democrats by significant margins, is a signal that the GOP hard line and strident rhetoric against immigrants are being marginalized.
Bush knows it and that’s why in the aftermath of the midterm election he stated that immigration is a top priority and it’s an area in which he can find “common ground” with Democrats.
If Bush works with Democrats and signs an immigration reform law, it will be the beginning of a possible shift into moderation for other areas such as Iraq.
If there is a message to be drawn from the Democrats’ victory in November, it is that voters rejected the extreme actions from Bush and the GOP, opting instead for moderation. Bush will thus end up in the political center which is where he claimed to be when he first became president.
Domenico Maceri, PhD, UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. He is the author of a book on Pirandello, one on Spanish grammar, and another on Italian grammar. He has also published a number of articles in newspapers and magazines around the world, some of which have won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.
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