or Bad: What Will It Be in ‘07?
By Jeanne Butterfield
won control of both the Senate and House and several
anti-immigrant politicians were defeated, but what
do these mean for positive immigration legislation
There’s a window of opportunity for Congress
to enact truly comprehensive immigration reform
next year. But Congress will have to act quickly,
decisively and in a bipartisan fashion, before the
2008 presidential campaign closes the window, and
immigration once again is put on the back burner
to await the outcome of the elections.
Several positive dynamics can result in good legislation
by the fall of 2007. Much of the difficult work
of developing a comprehensive framework for immigration
reform has already been done. While the Senate bill
was flawed in some important ways, it included the
major building blocks necessary for a successful
bipartisan majority to support and pass a bill.
It had: 1) smart and reasonable enforcement measures;
2) earned legalization for the undocumented currently
in the country; 3) a new worker visa and path to
eventual citizenship for future essential workers;
and 4) relief from lengthy and unfair backlogs for
family and employment-based immigrants.
The Senate can start with what it passed in 2006,
improve on it and bring a new comprehensive bill
to the floor fairly quickly in 2007.
The House has to forge a bill that can gain support
from a bipartisan majority. With leadership from
a new Judiciary Committee, the House bill can possibly
incorporate some needed due-process reforms and
correct some of the harsh excesses
of the 1996 immigration legislation.
Both the House and Senate can incorporate other
programs that have broad support in immigrant communities
and on Capitol Hill, like the Dream Act, the Agricultural
Workers Bill and more.
There are, however, several obstacles and potential
pitfalls that lie ahead as well. There’s no
unanimity in either the Democratic or Republican
party in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.
A sizeable number of Republicans still oppose any
sort of broad legalization program. A significant
number of Democrats still oppose any sort of new
essential worker program. Many in both parties are
hesitant to support much-needed due process fixes
that are essential.
Further, as 2008 approaches, partisan politics will
become more intense. Some Democrats won’t
want to give President Bush a “win”
on immigration. Some Republicans will want to prove
that the Democrats can’t pass any significant
legislation and are themselves a “do-nothing
Finally, there will be some in both parties who
fear that a position in support of comprehensive
immigration reform will be used against them in
closely contested Congressional races in 2008.
Which will prevail, good policy or bad politics?
It all depends on the strength of the voices supporting
comprehensive immigration reform. Immigrant communities
clearly need reform in order to come out from the
shadows of illegality and exploitation and abuse.
Families and employers languishing as the result
of backlogs clearly need reform. Our nation’s
economy clearly needs ireform in order to keep growing
and competitive in the global market.
Immigration reform is an issue whose time has come.
Next year is a historic window of opportunity. We
must tell our Congressional representatives to roll
up their sleeves and do the hard work needed to
get comprehensive immigration reform done. New America