President Obama gave immigration reform only one vague sentence in his State of the Union address. Despite that, and the poisonous stalemate on Capitol Hill, the White House and Democratic Congressional leaders insist that they are still committed to presenting a comprehensive reform bill this year — one that would clamp down on the border and workplace, streamline legal immigration and bring 12 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows.
The country needs to confront the issue, to lift the fear that pervades immigrant communities, to better harness the energy of immigrant workers, to protect American workers from off-the-books competition. What’s been happening as the endless wait for reform drags on has been ugly.
The administration has doubled down on the Bush-era enforcement strategy, unleashing the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement agencies and setting loose an epidemic of misery, racial profiling and needless arrests. The intense campaign of raids and deportations has so clogged the immigration courts that the American Bar Association has proposed creating an independent court system that presumably would be better able to command adequate resources.
Tensions and anger in immigrant communities are rising. Religious and business groups are urging change — for moral reasons and because they believe that bringing immigrants out from the shadows would help the economy. Young students who have patiently waited for the Dream Act — a bill to legalize immigrant children who bear no blame for their status — are frustrated. Groups across the country are planning to march on Washington this month, demanding action on reform.
At least one advocacy group, the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, has declared the dream of comprehensive reform dead. It is urging incremental change, with modest reforms like the Dream Act. Other groups may follow. It is too soon to give up.
Representative Luis Gutierrez has submitted legislation in the House that contains the right elements of comprehensive reform. Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham are working on a Senate version. Let’s hope Congress and Mr. Obama are paying attention and will find the spine to fashion a fair, comprehensive bill and then fight for it.
Mr. Obama should remember the promise he made often during the campaign but left out of his State of the Union: that the undocumented deserve a chance to make Americans of themselves.
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