Streams

Opinion: Goodbye Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Hello Incrementalism

Thursday, January 26, 2012

President Obama once again called for comprehensive immigration reform during his State of the Union address Tuesday, stressing that his administration has done more on border enforcement than previous administrations.

I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration.  That’s why my administration has put more boots on the border than ever before.  That’s why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office.  The opponents of action are out of excuses.  We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.

We should, but we’re not.

Obama recognizes, like most Americans, that “nothing will get done in Washington this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that, because Washington is broken.” He knows that Congress will not pass an expansive bill which tackles all problems afflicting the country’s immigration system, especially one that includes a path to citizenship for millions of unauthorized immigrants. Not in this current Congress or the next.

He therefore proposed smaller steps, alluding to the DREAM Act which passed the House but failed in the Senatea little over a year ago.

But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country.  Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship.  I will sign it right away.

There is, after all, some sympathy for undocumented youth who were brought to the United States as children without their consent. Gallup reports that Americans generally favor rather than oppose the DREAM Act.

Obama’s State of the Union was largely a “dream” speech. The chances of comprehensive immigration reform happening is practically nil. Less ambitious bills that favor undocumented youth, high-skilled foreign workers, and agricultural laborers are a little more likely to pass, and the President would sign them.

Everyone agrees that the immigration system is broken but there is and will be no stomach for a major overhaul. Smaller pieces are more palatable and feasible.

The immigration system will change but true to its history and the messy reality of legislation, it will be through patchwork efforts.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

Feet in Two Worlds is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

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