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La Jornada, Mexico

Immigration Reform: A Pending Promise

By Jorge Durand

Translated By Robert Sullivan

27 January 2013

Edited by Gillian Palmer

Mexico - La Jornada - Original Article (Spanish)

The New York detective Nero Wolf, besides being both sedentary and a foodie, was also deeply pessimistic. He justified his attitude by saying that it is much better to be pessimistic than optimistic. The latter suffer disappointments at every turn, while the former occasionally have good news for which to rejoice.

Elsewhere I have written on the subject of immigration reform, and I projected optimism. Today a new window of opportunity has opened, with Obama's promise and the implementation commission's plans to revisit the issue. Still, I do not want to be, nor can I be, optimistic after so many lost illusions and the many aggressions and frustrations suffered by immigrants living in irregular status in the United States.

And that pessimism is validated by the troubles that Obama just had to go through to escape the fiscal cliff. The American far right-wing continues to set the agenda, preventing, hindering and delaying any deal at all costs. And we’re not even talking about immigrants, but rather their own people, the economic recovery and restrictions on assault weapons.

Before starting the immigration debates, two important items have to be passed: gun control and the extension of the debt ceiling to avoid falling into bankruptcy. With regard to the latter discussion was postponed until May, but the problem is still pending, as is the future of the world economy.

As for gun control, Obama has stopped with the speeches, condolences and regrets and put Vice President Biden in charge of proposing and negotiating a solution. But manufacturers and gun lovers resist any change in Congress. They fund politicians from both parties, and the National Rifle Association defends their interests through the best lobby in Washington.

Obama's executive orders are a first step, demonstrating his disgust with Congress’ inefficiency. But Congress is where the relevant issues are resolved and legally formalized.

If Obama wins these two games (the fiscal cliff was a tie), then one might believe that there is cause for optimism. Nonetheless, the issue of irregular immigration has nothing to do with the economy or with anything involving a constitutional right. Immigration is a particular case of a minority — even if there are 11 million people in an irregular situation — whose presence many Americans consider illegal.

Irregular immigration does not adversely affect the economy — quite the opposite. But it puts into question legality, a sacred issue for Americans. Indeed, one might think that a direct attack on immigrants could affect the local economy and the interests of many people. But it doesn’t appear that way.

In Arizona, where there has been the greatest persecution of immigrants and where they have applied the most repressive and persecutory measures against the Hispanic population, Sheriff Joe Arpaio keeps winning elections. His racist and derogatory clothing prank that captured immigrants in pink underwear (you can view photos in Google Images) was celebrated with great enthusiasm by the press and his followers.

Yet it is in the electoral arena where the solution might be found. Nationally, the Latino electorate has been very sensitive to candidates' positions toward immigrants, and in the last two elections their votes weighed in clear favor of the Democrats. Moreover, electoral demographics reveal that the Latino vote will continue to grow significantly in the future, and if anyone wants to win elections, they will have to give clear signals to Latinos that their problems will be addressed, their interests are respected and that concessions will be made.

No doubt, the most important concession to the Latino community will be immigration reform. Beyond regularization and all its requirements, the main target group for the short, medium and long-term reform would be Latinos, with nearly 9 million irregular immigrants. Two million young people who have experienced the anguish of being irregular may vote in the medium-term and are already hardened in political struggle as DREAMers.* Family members, especially children of immigrants born in the United States, could give their votes to a representative or candidate who advocates giving some peace of mind to their relatives and friends.

Election campaigns with anti-immigrant undertones have yet to get the same results; Tea Party extremists who promoted the extreme tightening of immigration policy are going home. Moreover, United States sources indicate a very sensible diminishing of irregular migration: They claim that the net balance of irregular migration has reached zero. Interestingly, some Mexican academics remain wedded to the figures of the past and continue with the refrain that 400,000 cross each year.

The issue is political, and in politics, as in business, one can make all kinds of alliances. The legalization of marijuana was finally resolved by political measures — never mind the 50 years of demonization of grass. Even the most recalcitrant enemies can stand to negotiate once everyone has shown their weight and strength. The weight and force for reform is centered on electoral demographics.

There are reasons to be optimistic, but there are several windows of opportunity that have been closed, and nothing has been accomplished. Immigrant organizations are coming back again with renewed vigor, and with Obama's commitment to support reform it is hoped that something can happen this year. But the immigration issue always goes to the third place in the presidential agenda and fifth in Congress. There will have to be other signals to get to the ranks of the optimists.

* Editor’s note: This refers to the DREAM Act, proposed legislation to allow young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to pursue a path to citizenship, provided they meet certain other qualifications (such as military service or college education).



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