Immigration Reform: The Disappearing Act

Back in April, which was really not that long ago, one would have not have appeared too irrational too think the nation was on the brink of a cultural crisis. Hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the streets of American cities waving flags and chanting “Si se puede.” Employees took the day off from work and schoolchildren skipped class to participate. The passion of those people so acutely affected by their status as illegal immigrants was made very apparent by these demonstrations.
In direct response to these developments, President Bush announced in an address on May 15 an immigration initiative from the executive branch. “We are launching the most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history. We will construct high-tech fences in urban corridors, and build new patrol roads and barriers in rural areas. We will employ motion sensors infrared cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent illegal crossings. America has the best technology in the world and we will ensure that the Border Patrol has the technology they need to do their job and secure our border.” That initiative was put into action immediately, made the talk show rounds, and was soon old news.

The House and Senate each passed their own immigration reform bills. They varied significantly, the Senate version more in consonance with the President’s relatively liberal approach while the House version more closely reflected the intransigent hard-line approach of vocal minuteman types. According to the Heritage Foundation, the Senate bill offered amnesty to 85 percent of America’s almost 12 million illegal immigrants and a number of avenues for immigrants to enter the country legally. It appeared to do more to channel in an orderly fashion the expected inflow of immigrants than to reduce the inflow overall. The House bill on the other hand was considered much more harsh in that it emphasized the role of enforcement of current immigration law, making employers responsible for maintaining a documented workforce. It seeks to clamp down on illegal immigration though increased border security coupled with the aforementioned increase in enforcement in the workplace.

Much debate ensued on Capitol Hill and in the media. Was the House bill too harsh? Was the Senate bill too lenient? And then, it all sort of faded away as gridlock ensued between the two houses of congress. Suddenly, congressional Republicans realized that they sat at the nexus of two very unsettling realities—the imminence of fall elections and the very low poll numbers that hung over their heads. The campaigns needed a serious jump start, and as was addressed last month in this blog, the Republicans undertook to do so by rolling out the well-worn components of the social conservative agenda. Cheaply they trotted out gay marriage, flag-burning, pledge of allegiance bills.
This instant jump start strategy may in the end prove costly. The congress have but three weeks to come to a consensus on several major issues, none perhaps more serious than immigration. And yet very little progress has been made since the issue was first brought to the nation’s conscience earlier this year. The rallies have since died down for the most part, but it may be only that immigration rights activists are patiently awaiting the official response from Washington. Unless the Congress can come to an accord on the issue, Republicans this fall should cross their fingers in hopes that the rallies will not resume at an inopportune time in late October.

There is, of course, the chance that House Republicans this fall can go back to their districts and brag that they are standing tough on immigration and in doing so assuage the impatience among the constituency. In the meantime, the problem persists in absence of a solution. The spectre of the do-nothing moniker rests heavy on the congress. It has precious little time to earn its keep.