Setback for Real Immigration Reform

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Last week saw the first speed bump on the road to comprehensive immigration reform. After more than a month of steady progress in the push to create a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and other undocumented immigrants, some conservatives in the House of Representatives said they would try to block any plan that gave more than temporary status. Raul Labrador, the most prominent Latino Tea Party conservative in the House, said he could not vote for a plan that allowed immigrants to earn permanent residence. Advocates had hoped that he would follow Marco Rubio’s lead towards a more moderate stance, but he has not.

In an interview with NPR, Labrador accused the undocumented of violating American sovereignty and he adopted a punitive stance towards them:

“The people that came here illegally knowingly — I don’t think they should have a path to citizenship. If you knowingly violated our law, you violated our sovereignty, I think we should normalize your status but we should not give you a pathway to citizenship.”

At a hearing on immigration reform in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, sounded more conciliatory than he had in years on the issue. Goodlatte had in the past opposed measures as moderate as the DREAM Act.  He now seems to favor some kind of legalization program but says he is exploring ways to legalize people without giving them permanent residence or a pathway to citizenship.

Conversely, House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor seemed to push back against immigration reform in a speech Tuesday when he endorsed citizenship for DREAMers as a “good place to start.” He told the conservative American Enterprise Institute that; “One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home.”

The good news is that conservatives appear to concede that some sort of legalization will happen. The negatives however are quite strong. First, the fact that House conservatives are trying to put forward a plan at odds with the bipartisan Senate principles may slow passage of reform allowing anti-immigrant forces to organize opposition to any reform at all. So far these groups have been back on their heels since Election Day, but the longer legislation is mired in the House, the stronger the opposition to reform will be. Second, the fact that some conservatives believe they can win Latino votes with a plan that relegates the undocumented to permanent second class status shows that a significant portion of the power elite remains out of touch with the fastest growing segment of the electorate.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is Director of Legal Services at CARECEN and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra University. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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