The Obstacle Course to Legalization

By Miguel Perez

May 21, 2013 6 min read

Has anyone noticed that the so-called "path to legalization" for undocumented immigrants is rapidly becoming an obstacle course? Are we so hungry for immigration reform that we are willing to swallow it without even looking at it? Even if it's spoiled?

We hear the pundits saying that "at least immigration reform is moving forward," and, since Congress has been suffering from paralysis, they seem willing to celebrate any forward movement — never mind the details in hundred of forthcoming amendments that could kill the entire measure.

In fact, the two immigration bills still being drafted (in the House) and amended (in the Senate) are likely to be so far apart that reconciling them might prove to be impossible.

But if they do reach a consensus and pass some form of immigration legislation this year, I fear that it will be so diluted by Republicans and unprotected by Democrats that it will not be worthy of the president's signature.

Of course, just to save face, President Obama probably would sign anything, and he would call it a great accomplishment even if it isn't. But surely it would be nowhere near the pro-immigrant reform most Latino voters envisioned when they heard him say, "Si Se Puede" and when they sent him to the White House twice.

Even if no more anti-immigrant amendments are tacked onto the already-weak Senate bill, and even if the still-unrevealed House version is more moderate than expected, we already know that whatever legalization plan comes out of this Congress would make most undocumented immigrants wait 13 to 15 years before they could even apply for citizenship. And we know that even the beginning of that process is not guaranteed since it is contingent on Mexican border security and the realization of extravagant and very costly border crackdown measures.

Undocumented immigrants could apply for citizenship after 13 to 15 years, but only if the Mexican border has been totally secured and few a more difficult and unnecessary hurdles have been cleared. For example, some House Republicans reportedly are insisting on other "triggers" that need to be pulled before the legalization process can begin. In fact, one such "trigger" could be deadly, since it would totally end the legalization process if an employment verification system — commonly known as E-Verify — is not enacted nationally for at least five years after the bill becomes law.

In fact, except for young "Dreamers" who could be getting a much better deal than their parents, including citizenship within five years, the current legislation doesn't guarantee that most undocumented immigrants would ever become American citizens. Most could become legal residents, but they could remain in a state of second-class limbo, without ever getting the right to vote, health care and welfare assistance.

Bottom line: Because of the thrashing Republicans received from Latino voters in recent elections, they need to be able to say they did something about immigration. But they want a bill that is draconian in enforcement and diluted in the process toward legalization. And the Democrats seem to be letting them get away with it.

After already failing to keep his promise to reform immigration during his first term, President Obama's lack of leadership of this issue, his willingness to let Congress work out this legislation without his intervention, is truly astounding. It's certainly not the kind of leadership Latinos and other pro-immigrant voters expected from the "Si Se Puede" president.

And now that his administration has been saddled with a series of scandals, pundits already are asking whether Obama can keep fighting for immigration reform — as if he had actually fought for it before the scandals!

He didn't. Obama has done nada!

As a result of the president's back seat approach, the Republicans in Congress have been doing the driving on immigration. Some of the traditionally vociferously pro-immigrant legislators, such at Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, have been uncomfortably conciliatory at a time when their fiery advocacy is most needed.

Mind you, I see immigration reform advocates still expressing confidence in the House and Senate Democrats who have been part of the bipartisan committees that have been drafting these bills. I hear them saying the Democrats in the Senate's "Gang of Eight" and in a similar House group, understand that the "pathway" cannot become an obstacle course and that they cannot allow Republicans to keep adding hoops and hurdles. I hope they are right.

But unfortunately, from my perspective, I see these Democrats in the back seat with Obama, while Republicans Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Raul Labrador seem to be sharing the driving.

And since these three are serving the role of Latino props for the Republican Party, you see the most gullible pundits assuming that Rubio, Diaz-Balart and Labrador speak for a majority of Latinos. They don't!

In fact, since they are following a GOP roadmap, they are the ones who are steering immigration reform into a ditch, and most Latinos know it.

Nevertheless, since the pundits are looking for any kind of forward movement from Congress, any kind of immigration reform — even a hallow one — seems to be better than no reform at all. Go figure!

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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