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die Zeit, Germany

Fear of the White Man

By Martin Klingst

The chance for immigration reform has never been so good. Will the Republicans be able to overcome the fear rampant in the right wing of their party?

Translated By Ron Argentati

30 January 2013

Edited by Natalie Clager

Germany - die Zeit - Original Article (German)

It's fair to say that the chances of new and comprehensive immigration reform have never been as good as they are now. Better than they've been in 30 years, in fact, because the president and his Democrats want this change as does a majority of American citizens. They're also supported by a few Republicans, who see the change as inevitable.

And it's all up to the latter group because without their votes there will be no reform. Republicans control the House of Representatives and Democrats need at least a few of them to vote with Democrats. That won't be easy. The push for reform started off this week quite cleverly, the impetus coming from a bipartisan group of eight Democrats and Republicans.

Of particular importance: former Republican candidate for president and Senator John McCain was part of that group. He lost the 2008 election to Barack Obama largely due to the fact that Latinos defected en masse to Democrats on Election Day because what they saw as Republican stubbornness on the immigration issue.

Obama and the eight senators all want essentially the same thing.

Another member of the group of eight is Marco Rubio, senator of Cuban ancestry from Florida. Rubio is said to have an eye on his party's nomination for the presidency in 2016. The otherwise strictly conservative Rubio knows only too well that in view of the rapidly growing Latino population in America, no one can win the presidency without their votes.

After the eight senators, the follow-up push came from President Obama himself. In Nevada, a state with a large number of Latino voters, he laid out what he expected of the immigration reform initiative. This one-two punch was especially effective because Obama positioned himself somewhat to the left of the eight senators. The legislation drafted by the senators now appears more moderate than Obama's version, thereby increasing its chances for Republican approval.

Basically, Obama and the eight senators want the same thing: stronger border security, a more generous visa policy for workers and the legalization of the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in country.

Their plan has three parts: First, a better electronic surveillance system at the Mexican border and stricter consequences for employers who hire undocumented immigrants.

Second, an immigration policy more in tune with America's twenty-first century economic needs and one that attracts gifted students, scientists and researchers.

And third, permission for illegal immigrants to remain in the United States while working toward becoming citizens. That's the point most Republicans find objectionable and it's also the main point of disagreement between Obama's plan and the eight senators’ plan.

The senators don't want to grant Obama's pathway to citizenship until the government has secured all the borders and put stricter controls on visas and employers. Obama rejects their package deal. That might strike some as splitting hairs but in tactical politics, the difference is very important. Obama has to appear radical so the moderates will at least have a chance of success.

The battle will be hard enough in any case. Many skeptics will pop up. For example, will labor unions fight a guest worker program and a more generous issuance of work permits? Will churches object if Obama insists that the partners of gays and lesbians also be included?

But the greatest barrier of all is the Republicans in the House of Representatives, and not only because they are more ideological than their Senate counterparts: Many of them are looking to their upcoming campaigns for reelection.

The voting map has been redrawn in the past few years with new districts created. The result is many staunchly Republican and many staunchly Democratic districts. The former are populated mainly by white, conservative voters strictly against the proposed immigration reforms.

Because many Republicans may fear a right wing backlash, they may not be predisposed to supporting any reform of immigration law. The fight for comprehensive reform is far from over, but the chances of passage are nevertheless better than they have ever been.



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