Mid-term elections yield potential for immigration reform

8th+grade+students+hosted+the+annual+naturalization+ceremony+in+the+middle+school+on+Thursday%2C+Nov.+13.+Immigration+is+often+discussed+topic+at+SPA.+++Rapid+and+bipartisan+legislative+action+could+...lay+the+groundwork+for+more+comprehensive+future+reform.

Scott Streble; Submitted by Amy Berger

8th grade students hosted the annual naturalization ceremony in the middle school on Thursday, Nov. 13. Immigration is often discussed topic at SPA. “Rapid and bipartisan legislative action could …lay the groundwork for more comprehensive future reform.”

Tuesdays with Thomas

After a national wave in the midterm elections, which saw Republicans build their majority in the House and recapture the Senate, they now effectively control what, if any, immigration legislation will turn up on President Obama’s desk. With Obama threatening executive action to delay deportations in anticipation of an uncooperative Congress, while record numbers of unaccompanied undocumented minors flood the border, the stage is apparently set for two more years of dysfunction and delay. However, Republicans have the means to preempt the undesirable prospect of piecemeal reform through executive order, by taking the initiative to pass common-sense enforcement measures that can pave the way for more comprehensive reform.

Immigration reform, for all the heated debate and political dysfunction it engenders, deceptively constitutes a point of significant agreement between the two parties. A recent analysis by pollster Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website finds that 72% of Republican voters support a pathway to citizenship with some requirements for undocumented immigrants, as compared to 83% of Democrats. Meanwhile, an immigration reform bill that passed the Democrat-controlled Senate in 2013 included provisions for increased border enforcement and mandatory use of E-Verify (an internet database that contains workers’ legal residency information) by all employers—two initiatives traditionally supported by Republicans.

Underlying this consensus is a clear reality; illegal immigration is extraordinarily damaging. According to a 2012 study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the net economic cost caused by the present undocumented population amounts to about $113 billion annually on the state and federal level. Illegal immigration is a humanitarian problem as well; according to the American Civil Liberties Union, millions of undocumented workers have faced exploitation and harassment. Successful immigration reform must provide for undocumented immigrants already here, while preventing the problem from returning in the future. Citizenship, coupled with E-Verify and increased border security, goes a long way towards accomplishing both these objectives.

Pullquote Photo

They could easily cooperate with Democrats to address the growing child refugee problem at the border, and to delay deportations for immigrants already entrenched in the United States.”

— Thomas Toghramadjian

In spite of tacit agreement on these issues, it would be hopelessly optimistic to expect a fractured GOP congressional majority, checked by a filibuster-empowered Democratic minority and the president’s veto, to comprehensively reform immigration in the next two years. The kind of elaborate legislation needed to repair America’s broken immigration system has little chance in today’s political environment. However, there is still much that can be realistically accomplished. Although Democrats generally oppose expanding E-Verify without first creating a pathway to citizenship, a Republican majority can put a bill expanding corporate immigration enforcement on the president’s desk—one he would be under considerable pressure to sign. And if the moderate party establishment can keep hard-liners like Ted Cruz and Steve King under control, they could easily cooperate with Democrats to address the growing child refugee problem at the border, and to delay deportations for immigrants already entrenched in the United States.

In addition to meeting important humanitarian objectives, these individual measures would preempt Obama’s proposed executive action, which has the potential to badly undermine future cooperation on immigration. Rapid and bipartisan legislative action could build trust on immigration between the parties, thereby laying the groundwork for more comprehensive future reform.

TUESDAYS WITH THOMAS is published weekly.  Columnist Thomas Toghramadjian engages readers in topics ranging from politics to literature to science.