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Politico: Immigration Heats Up

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Today an article ran in Politico saying that immigration is gearing up for a big debate on reform. While the article starts out with a quote from the Center for Immigration Studies, a front organization for FAIR (which has been labeled an anti-immigrant hate group), it takes a purely political approach to whether comprehensive reform will happen this year.

Obama dealt with the immigration issue briefly at the White House on March 18 when the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met privately with the president. Lawmakers said he promised a high-profile event on immigration in the next month or two — but said he did not agree to commit to getting immigration reform passed this year. Instead, he said he’ll support efforts to have Congress take up the issue this fall.

“He didn’t make a commitment to sign it before the end of the year,” a senior administration official involved in the discussions said. “Presumably, if you’re launching the legislative debate in the fall, that’d be a pretty tall order. His commitment is to get this started.”

The article cites the increasing focus on the economy as problematic for support of comprehensive reform. However, pushing through reform is not mutually exclusive to helping our ailing economy. Reform would bring workers out of the shadows, allowing them the legal pathways to organize for better conditions and higher wages, raising wages across the board for all workers. Reform would also increase tax revenue from undocumented immigrants who are already paying certain taxes, but would be paying more as legal residents.

Also mentioned in the article is the booming fight over enforcement of immigration laws. While some argue that undocumented immigrants bring with them crime and violence, the myth of the immigrant criminal has been dispelled time and time again.

However, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) insisted the enforcement efforts were actually leading to more crime.

“Those drunkards and those rapists and those murderers do most of their drunkenness, their murdering and their raping in the very immigrant community in which they reside. And you know who wants to get rid of them? The very immigrant community that lives there, but they cannot call the police,” he said, insisting that comprehensive immigration reform was the only real solution.

It has been well-documented that programs like 287(g) that was debated in Congress yesterday, have a chilling-effect on communities, making undocumented immigrants far less likely to report crimes.

Politico may think that immigration is not politically viable this year, but I certainly do and there are millions with me. We will continue to push for reform in 2009 and will not take no for an answer.

To read the full Politico article, keep reading.

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has seemed intent on keeping the politically explosive issue of immigration on the back burner.

He won’t be able to do that for long.

Latino leaders are pressuring the White House to set a goal of signing a major immigration reform bill by the end of the year. Friction between immigrant communities and local police seeking to enforce federal law is increasing, prompting hearings on Capitol Hill and scrutiny from the Justice Department.

And in less than two weeks, Obama will be in Mexico for a presidential summit in which immigration issues will be on the agenda.

“I think, politically, [Obama] is in a tough spot, and he recognizes that the public isn’t where he is on immigration,” said Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, which bills itself as a “low immigration” think tank. “If you are Obama, it’s a no-win situation, and there is no reason to bring this issue up right now from a political view. You can give a few speeches to the right groups and then say, ‘What else is on the agenda?'”

With everything on his plate – from the economy to health care to two wars – it’s easy to see why Obama is hoping to steer clear of the issue. Immigration reform inspired furious debate in Congress when President George W. Bush tried to push through a “comprehensive” approach that would have allowed most of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to stay in the United States

Conservatives beat back Bush’s effort in a bitter fight that split the GOP. Even some of Obama’s Democratic allies in the labor movement have resisted immigration reform.

Obama dealt with the immigration issue briefly at the White House on March 18 when the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met privately with the president. Lawmakers said he promised a high-profile event on immigration in the next month or two – but said he did not agree to commit to getting immigration reform passed this year. Instead, he said he’ll support efforts to have Congress take up the issue this fall.

“He didn’t make a commitment to sign it before the end of the year,” a senior administration official involved in the discussions said. “Presumably, if you’re launching the legislative debate in the fall, that’d be a pretty tall order. His commitment is to get this started.”

The official, who asked not to be named, said Obama proposed a process similar to that used on health care. He suggested “some kind of public event followed by a lot of conversations with stakeholders on the issue to get the policy right and the strategy right,” the aide said. The White House plans “close consultations” with the Hill on legislation but does not intend to offer up an Obama-branded proposal, the official said.

Obama also committed to assign a White House point person on the immigration issue but has not yet done so, the aide said.

Bush’s approach called for a “path to citizenship” that would have allowed immigrants already here to apply to stay, as long as they paid any penalties and fines and stayed out of trouble with the law. Obama endorsed a broadly similar approach during the campaign.

Even as Latino groups and others seek to bring the issue back into the spotlight, the political reality is that the economic downturn might make this a particularly difficult time to clear the way for immigrants to stay in the United States.

The recession and rising unemployment rates are likely to undercut the already shaky public support for legalization of illegal immigrants. Business leaders are diverted by more immediate issues of corporate survival. And a surge in drug-related killings and assassinations in Mexico could stoke public fears that any immigration-related measure might cause that violence to migrate north, even though advocates insist reform would make Americans safer.

Asked whether the ailing economy would increase public resistance to immigration reform, the administration official said, “You might be right if the debate is about generosity versus being harsh to immigrants. … It’s not about whether we’re nice to immigrants or not. It’s about whether we’re doing a smart thing for the economy.”

While Obama aides insist the immigration issue is a priority, it has not been part of the “education, health care and energy” mantra that has dominated the president’s rhetoric since he offered up his budget plan in February. Latino officials were delighted last month when, in response to a question at a town hall meeting in Costa Mesa, Calif., Obama gave a lengthy and detailed statement in support of comprehensive immigration reform. However, he ignored the part of the question about when he planned to move on the issue.

The emotion the immigration debate inspires was on clear display on Capitol Hill on Thursday as two House subcommittees conducted a hearing on local efforts to detain illegal immigrants. One very high-profile drive, conducted by Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., with help from a cooperation agreement with the federal government, is now the target of a Justice Department investigation into possible civil rights violations.

Julio Cesar Mora, a 19-year-old Arizona man who is a U.S. citizen, complained that he and his father, who holds a green card, were pulled over and detained for three hours during one of the sheriff’s immigration raids. “They patted us down and tied our hands together with zip ties like we were criminals,” Mora complained.

Another witness, Ray Tranchant of Virginia, described the death of his 16-year-old daughter and a friend in a car accident caused by an illegal immigrant who was driving drunk and had been arrested before. “Instead of being deported, he stayed on the streets of Virginia Beach to drink and drive and subsequently killed these two beautiful girls,” Tranchant said.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told the Latino witnesses their plight paled in comparison to what had happened to Tranchant. “I don’t know how to impress to you what looks like an inconvenience to you compared to the very sacred life of this man’s daughter,” King said.

However, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) insisted the enforcement efforts were actually leading to more crime.

“Those drunkards and those rapists and those murderers do most of their drunkenness, their murdering and their raping in the very immigrant community in which they reside. And you know who wants to get rid of them? The very immigrant community that lives there, but they cannot call the police,” he said, insisting that comprehensive immigration reform was the only real solution.

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