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Veja, Brazil

The Pros and Pros of
Immigration Reform in the US


By Caio Blinder

Translated By Jane Dorwart

30 January 2013

Edited by Natalie Clager


Brazil - Veja - Original Article (Portuguese)

Influential Democrat and Republican senators hurried to draft a plan on Monday for a bipartisan accord on immigration reform in the U.S. President Obama, who evaded the issue during his first term, made a speech about the accord on Tuesday. In an atmosphere resembling an electoral rally, Obama praised the bipartisan efforts, but warned that if things got bogged down in Congress, he would send his own package of agreements to the legislature.

The president thundered that the time is "now" for immigration reform. A reasonable bet is that an agreement can be approved by the end of the year with commitments involving security at the border (the Mexican border, to be more exact), and a path of legalization for 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. This agreement would also include a new policy on visas which allows and streamlines temporary work for foreigners (with different skill levels) and more ease in the entrance process of legal immigrants.

Progress in negotiations, which is easy to predict, will be more torturous in the Republican controlled House due to the pockets of very conservative Republicans averse to compromises with the Democrats. The thinking in these sectors is that immigration reform is synonymous with amnesty and demagoguery. It is easy to dismiss the more conservative sectors with statistics from the CBS television network: 24 percent of Americans are in favor of deporting illegal immigrants, 20 percent support at least temporary visas for them and 51 percent support opening the path to citizenship for those who are already here.

It is illustrative that two of the most influential American newspapers have carried editorials hailing advances toward the first immigration reform since 1986 (during the Ronald Reagan administration, when there were three million illegal immigrants.)
The New York Times more enthusiastically did this than the cautious Wall Street Journal, which warned about Obama pressuring for an agreement convenient to his party's agenda and trying to peg the Republicans as being too inflexible or timid for reform. For Obama it would be better to piggyback on a solid bipartisan plan, the best of both worlds. With success he can cry victory; with failure he can make the Republicans responsible.

Evidently the incentives for immigration reform are economic and political. There is a Republican urgency to reverse the loss of the Latino and Asian electorate and to address the risk that the party is becoming an enclave for white, male and southern voters. There is a stimulus for Democrats to cement the Latin bloc which was vital to their electoral coalition (Obama had 71 percent of the minority vote and 73 percent of Asian votes in the November election.)

The Democratic and Latino senator from New Jersey, Robert Menendez, summarized the favorable climate for an immigration agreement: "Americans support it. Latino voters expect it. Democrats want it. Republicans need it." As for the economy, the majority of illegal immigrants are part of it, are part of our life here in the United States. Millions of them are welcomed and absorbed by the economy and society, whether by entrepreneurs needing employees, or housewives needing helpers.

Even for the illegal immigrants who are "within the system," it will not be a cakewalk to gain citizenship. With the new legislation it could take 15 years, due to the requirement of repaying back taxes and not being able to jump to the front of the line of those who are legally waiting for documents. The greater ease of entering the temporary workforce is efficient because it will accompany the comings and goings of the economy.

It is in the DNA of the country. What is really cool is the following passage from the Wall Street Journal editorial: "A path to citizenship would also assist the process of assimilation that has been one of America's historic strengths. The U.S. should not want a permanent class of residents who can never be citizens and thus have less incentive to adapt to U.S. cultural mores, speak English, or move out of segregated ethnic enclaves."

It remains to be seen how Washington will behave. Paralysis is in its DNA. The concept of compromise has migrated. But the new political reality opens a space for a dynamic agreement based on the tradition of welcoming immigrants.



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