Immigration Reform: Good Politics and Good Policy for the Dems
by Jonathan Singer, Tue Dec 26, 2006 at 08:16:56 AM EST
Over the past few weeks, I've been arguing fairly strenuously against the Democrats embracing the type of faux-bipartisanship so desperately sought by the Beltway media (here and here, for example). In short, both the White House and the leadership of the Republican caucuses in Congress have acted in such poor faith in recent years and reneged on so many deals with Democrats only to use those deals to try to defeat Democratic members that there is little reason to place any trust in either of them during the 110th Congress. But there are some exceptions to this rule, including immigration reform. And as Rachel L. Swarns reports for The New York Times today, it appears that things might be moving towards a deal on the issue.
Counting on the support of the new Democratic majority in Congress, Democratic lawmakers and their Republican allies are working on measures that could place millions of illegal immigrants on a more direct path to citizenship than would a bill that the Senate passed in the spring.
The lawmakers are considering abandoning a requirement in the Senate bill that would compel several million illegal immigrants to leave the United States before becoming eligible to apply for citizenship.
The lawmakers are also considering denying financing for 700 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico, a law championed by Republicans that passed with significant Democratic support.
The details of the forthcoming immigration reform packages are still a bit hazy, in part because they have not necessarily been hammered out yet and in part because the bills' proponents are not likely interested in completely laying out their legislation to the public yet. That said, the ideas floating around -- allowing most of those here illegally to have a path to citizenship while removing much of the complicated and not easily implemented tiering (which would divide the undocumented into categories based upon the length of time they have been in the country) from previously passed Senate legislation -- make for both good policy and good politics.
With regards to policy, it's not clear to me that a Democracy can thrive in the long term wth a permanent underclass of non-citizens living in their midst, whether or not such a situation is allowed under the law. And while legislation creating a path to citizenship for those here illegally today might not wholly alleviate this problem, it will move us much closer to attaining equity under the law for all of the inhabitants of this country.
On the politics side, there are a number of reasons why the Democrats should move forward with immigration reform legislation that would allow for the more than 10 million illegal immigrants to have an arduous, though passable path to citizenship. Two in particular stand out. First, many of these immigrants would likely become Democratic voters in future elections. Second, even bringing up immigration reform (and not necessarily even passing it) would put John McCain in a terribly difficult situation. Though he believes in passing a bill along these lines, which helps him position himself as a moderate and a maverick, joining in the effort to pass this legislation would put him in a tough spot with Republicans, particularly Republican primary voters, making it that much more difficult for him to either gain the Republican nomination or to run in a general election as even somewhat independent.
So once we get past the early stages of the 110th Congress and there have been significant efforts to pass the cornerstones of the Democratic platform, Congressional Democrats should try to make a serious pass at reforming America's immigration policy. Whether or not it ends up enacted into law, such a move will be a net positive for the Democratic Party.