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El Pais, Colombia

All at Once or Little by Little?

By Jorge Ramos

Translated By Natalie Legros

13 January 2013

Edited by Gillian Palmer

Colombia - El Pais - Original Article (Spanish)

The goal is to achieve immigration reform in the United States to legalize millions of illegal immigrants. But the question is: Do we look for everything all at once or little by little?

There are two proposals. One is that of President Barack Obama and the Democrats, which will seek a total change to legalize in one fell swoop the majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants. They believe that the past election — which gave Obama 71 percent of the Hispanic vote and only 27 percent to Mitt Romney — is a mandate to pass immigration reform soon. This is the "all at once" theory.

The other proposal is that of the Republicans, which will seek a gradual solution over several years. Before legalizing a single undocumented immigrant, they first want three things: reinforcement of security on the border, an infallible system of verification of legal employees and a functional program of temporary workers. If they achieve those three things, only then would they be open to starting to legalize the 11 million illegal immigrants that are in the country. And for that, they would begin with the "Dreamers," the children of undocumented workers who were brought to the United States before turning 18. This is the "little by little" theory.

We already know that after his second inauguration on January 20, Obama will pressure Congress for immigration reform. He has said it many times. What he has not said is if he will elaborate his own legislation or if he will leave it with the Democratic congressmen. No matter what, the important thing is that the president may take action and get involved completely in the process. If he did it to change the health care system, he can do it with immigration as well.

The reality today is that the 60 votes in the Senate and 238 in the House of Representatives that would be needed to pass immigration reform do not exist. The president and the Democrats hope that the Republicans will be frightened by their support from Hispanic voters and agree to negotiate. But fear is not enough.

There are many Republicans who oppose the citizenship of illegal immigrants as much as they do tax increases. They see the legislation as “amnesty.” It doesn't matter how much immigration defenders insist that the suggested solutions are neither pardons nor absolutions for the immigrants — since there will be sanctions, delays, and limitations — Republicans don't give their arm (or their vote).

The truth is that there are millions of undocumented people that would accept the minimum — in other words, a work permit and that they not be deported. With that they would consider themselves well served. Their priority is not to become United States citizens; they would allow their kids to do that. But the United States cannot accept citizens halfway. If everyone is equal, illegal immigrants should also have the opportunity to become American citizens.

How do we do it? All at once or little by little?

All at once. That is the order.

The organization United We Dream, which includes thousands of undocumented students, is leading us by example. They decided in a recent meeting in Kansas City, Mo. that they would look for total immigration reform to help their parents as well. It might have been easier, politically, to support the Dream Act first, but they didn't want to save only themselves. And they decided to apply pressure to do it early next year.

Why not do it step by step, over several years? Because we have already waited for so long, and because the issue would become a campaign topic every two years. That seems rather a formula for complete failure. Besides, the bipartisan agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff is a good precedent for the immigration debate. If they already agreed once, they can do it again.

Obama was only 25 years old when the last immigration reform was passed. President George W. Bush promised it in the year 2000, but the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 changed everything. After the 2012 election it remained clear that this is a priority of the Hispanics, a rapidly growing group in the American electorate.

Those who think we must continue waiting don't think about the parents that leave their house every morning not knowing if they'll be able to see their children that night. An arrest, a raid or a simple traffic infraction can end in a deportation and a family tragedy.

The time to wait has come to an end. If we immigrants have learned something, it is that the United States, when it wants something, is a country that does not wait.



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