If you've been frustrated by the profound meaninglessness of the just-finished Beltway battle over the fiscal bluff, and its followup fake debt-ceiling "crisis" this March, take heart: The next really big fight shaping up this spring and summer will at least be over something genuinely consequential -- comprehensive immigration reform.
An Obama administration official said the president plans to push for immigration reform this January. The official, who spoke about legislative plans only on condition of anonymity, said that coming standoffs over deficit reduction are unlikely to drain momentum from other priorities. The White House plans to push forward quickly, not just on immigration reform but gun control laws as well.
... It remains unclear what type of immigration policies the White House plans to push in January, but turning them into law could be a long process. Aides expect it will take about two months to write a bipartisan bill, then another few months before it goes up for a vote, possibly in June. A bipartisan group of senators are already working on a deal, although they are still in the early stages. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) will likely lead on the Democratic side in the House. While many Republicans have expressed interest in piecemeal reform, it's still unclear which of them plan to join the push.
Lofgren expressed hope that immigration reform would be able to get past partisan gridlock, arguing that the election was seen as something of a mandate for fixing the immigration system and Republicans won't be able to forget their post-election promises to work on a bill. "In the end, immigration reform is going to depend very much on whether Speaker [John] Boehner wants to do it or not," Lofgren said.
Indeed. No doubt any bill that has a chance of passing the House will be larded with all kinds of punitive, enforcement-heavy measures, emphasizing "border security" even beyond the extreme measures that have been instituted in the past decade, that will be insisted upon by conservatives of all stripes, Republican and Democrat alike.
But Republicans in particular are having to face the hard realities of demographic change in the USA, having just had their hats handed to them by Latino voters in the last election -- due punishment for the party's disgusting embrace of the naked nativist faction that now is embodied in the Tea Party. Boehner and Co. may not want to deal with the issue, but cold reality is almost certainly going to compel them to act in a quasi-reasonable fashion.
As America's Voice observed after the election:
The demographic writing on the wall says that Republicans must be more pro-immigrant and willing to reach out to Latino voters. The 2012 election results have sparked a frenzy of Republican and conservative soul-searching about how they can avoid a repeat of the 2012 election cycle for future national elections. One of the most universal acknowledgements is that the Republican Party must do better among the rapidly-growing Latino voter population and, concurrently, that the Party must change its dominant, hardline immigration stance. As Republican strategist Ana Navarro tweeted, “Mitt Romney self-deported himself from the White House.”
Twenty percent of Latinos would be willing to vote Republican if the GOP had more tolerant positions on immigration. That extra 20% would put Republicans in reach of regaining the White House. One-in-five Latinos voted for President Obama in 2012 but said that they would be open to voting for Republicans if the Party leads on immigration. Combining this subset of Obama voters with the 23% of Latinos who voted for Mitt Romney, a pro-immigration reform Republican Party would be poised to again achieve the 40% threshold of Latino support that George W. Bush received in 2004 and many analysts say the GOP will need going forward to remain a nationally competitive party, especially as demographic trends accelerate for the 2014 and 2016 elections.
The GOP’s demographic problems will only get worse from here. Noting the long-term implications of the Republican Party’s “Latino problem,” former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) noted that the 2012 elections were, “a clarion call that we have to [respond to]. Soon we are going to have to start worrying about Texas and Arizona. Unless we step up, we are going to be the minority party.” Similarly, newly-elected Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) told Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker, “If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to two-seventy electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party.”
Progressive Democrats will be entering this debate from a position of strength, especially given the American public's eagerness to resolve the immigration mess. Yes, Republicans will make the most noise and will pout and make faces, but progressives have the upper hand, and should act accordingly.
So what should progressive Democrats expect in any immigration-reform legislation? Obviously, at some point things will be diluted in the process of negotiation. But instead of taking the standard Obama approach to negotiations -- which has been to dilute everything down by negotiating with our own side first, then making that the starting point in negotiations with Republicans -- it's time to take an aggressively progressive approach and insist first on progressive legislation, which is to say, lawmaking that will actually work to solve the problem.
What does a progressive agenda on immigration look like? Something like this:
- An earned path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants currently in the country who wish to remain -- and a guest-worker program for those who just want to work and return home.
- Modest, appropriate penalties for those currently here illegally, plus requirements to study English, pay taxes, and otherwise get right with the law.
- Make obtaining citizenship a rational process, free of unnecessary red tape and bureaucratic hurdles.
- Create a guest-worker program that ensures participants’ full constitutional rights, including the right to organize, while enabling the distribution of labor, both skilled and unskilled, to those industries where it is needed.
- Discard the current system's longstanding phobia regarding "chain migration", instead emphasizing the value of family ties when considering admission and work visas.
- Undertake a complete overhaul of immigration-quota system, so that immigrants are admitted on the basis of economic needs and are not based on nations of origin.