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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy


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As Barack Obama continues to enjoy a
wide lead in national opinion polls, a number of news organizations report that
the Democrat is already planning for the transition including planning
appointments and legislative strategy. While some may think this is
presumptuous, it's actually incredibly responsible given the frightening
situation in the world right now. The new President will face enormous
challenges and the more time spent preparing for the change in leadership, the

A great debate has been going on for
some time within the Democratic Party regarding the timing of efforts to reform
the immigration system. The party has reached general consensus that reform is
needed and they agree on most of the details. But fear of anti-immigration
groups and too many anti-immigrant Republicans were enough to block a bill
several times over the last few years. Some have even suggested that
immigration reform be put off until 2012, the beginning of a second term for
the new President. >>

It is time to put reticence aside
and aggressively pursue reform.>>

The first of the two problems I
noted above has largely been addressed. There has been a dramatic altering in public
opinion on immigration over the last 12 months. Immigration is now considered
the most important issue facing America by less than 1% of the American public
compared to 12% last year. The issue was the second most important issue in the
minds of Americans in mid-2007 and today it is not even on the top 10 list. And
this is very typical for America. During most periods, immigration is generally
favored and not considered a pressing problem. The anti-immigrant frenzy of the
last couple of years has echoed similar periods in US history and such brief
periods are always followed by a return to normalcy. >>

In short, even if anti-immigrant
groups can work the phones and faxes, the Democrats and pro-immigration
Republicans should know that public opinion is not behind these efforts.
Pro-immigration groups need to be strong in making this point to individual
members of Congress and present hard evidence to back up the claim.>>

As for the number of pro-immigrant
members of Congress, there are more and more predictions that the Democrats
will achieve substantially higher majorities in both Houses of Congress -
possible as many as 60 Senate seats and more than 260 seats in the House of
Representatives. These are large enough majorities to readily overcome minority

The time for pro-immigration groups
to begin pushing for a rapid approval of a comprehensive immigration reform bill
is NOW.  Congress should avoid the temptation to simply re-start long and
drawn out hearings on the topic. They have held extensive hearings and debated
at an extreme length the subject of immigration reform over the past several
years and more talk is not going to produce a better result. Senator Obama
needs to include immigration reform in his agenda for the first 100 days of his
Administration and he should honor Senator McCain and Senator Kennedy by
starting with their 2006 bill in the negotiation. Years of work have gone in to
drafting that bill and there is no reason to re-invent the wheel.>>

Why is it so important to act now?
First, unemployment will inevitably rise over the next year due to the
financial crisis. And if world history and the history of our country is an
indicator, many will inevitably start to blame immigrants and other minorities
for our troubles. I hope this does not happen, but it is not a far-fetched
fear. Better to deal with immigration when cooler heads are prevailing.
Certainly, measures to ensure that immigrants are not causing a rise in
unemployment can be incorporated in to any legislation and employers that can
show they are expanding their American work force and not outsourcing jobs should
receive favorable treatment. >>

Second, Democrats are not likely to
have as many members of Congress after the 2010 elections. For most of our
recent history, a new President's party almost always loses seats in the first
mid-term election. That means the prospects for immigration reform are not
going to improve for as long as four more years. A President has a unique
opportunity to pass significant legislation during the "honeymoon" of
the first few months of his or her term in office, particularly when his party
controls both houses in Congress. If Senator Obama is emphatic that immigration
reform be in his initial legislative agenda, it has a real chance of passing.>>

Finally, if Senator Obama is
reluctant to publicly commit to this, members of the Congressional Hispanic
Caucus should be vocal in demanding it. Hispanic voters are going to be a
critical part of an Obama win and they are within their rights to expect a
return on the investment of their support for the candidate. Recent public
opinion polls are showing the Hispanics are giving McCain less than half of
what they offered President Bush. This change ALONE will likely be the reason
Senator Obama wins key battleground states like Nevada, Colorado, Florida and
New Mexico. >>

I specifically call on Senator
Menendez to push Senator Obama to make the commitment NOW to put immigration
reform on his First 100 Days legislative agenda.  After the election, he
won't have the same kind of clout on this issue unless the CHC is willing to
use its numbers to block the rest of the new President's legislative agenda if
he ignores immigration. >>

It will never be easier to pass
immigration reform than the first 100 days of an Obama Administration and the
time to start working to make sure that the Senator is committed to this is
right now. There is an enormous opportunity and we cannot afford to waste it.


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  1. Sid's Avatar
    Greg, it's always nice to hear from optimists about the Obama presidency because the pessimist in me is not sure how the majority of Americans will act on Nov 4th given the kind of fear and hatred that the McCain campaign is trying to spread. To understand what I'm talking about watch some YouTube videos of the audience coming out of recent McCain-Palin rallies.

    I know that I have bigger worries than the outcome of this election but given how he has run his campaign, a McCain-Palin win really scares me and I'm not even a permanent resident. Americans who can read, write, think, listen and understand are probably even more scared. Hopefully, there are in the majority in the swing states.
  2. JoeF's Avatar
    I wouldn't worry too much about what the McCain/Palin campaign tries. These are the desperate actions of a campaign that can see the writing on the wall.
    The current economic turmoil is killing the chances of the Republicans winning anything. As almost always, it is about the economy. An old slogan from Reagan comes to find: Are you better off than 4 years ago? I doubt that people would answer yes to that...
    Unless the current administration manages to find Bin Laden right before the elections, McCain has pretty much lost.
  3. 's Avatar
    Excuse me...not reinvent the wheel? I beg to differ. The Mccain-Kenneedy bill was a windfall for illegals but a kick in the backside for legal immigrants. For example, a motion to consider spouses and children of LPRs as immediate relatives was defeated. Someone here illegally gets a chance to get in the line for a fee but legals with families separated for five plus years get a wonderfully raw deal.
  4. Kalifornian's Avatar
    See the hatred coming from those small town uneducated Klan derivatives directed at Obama ! I hope they are a small mis-guided section of America.
  5. hmm's Avatar
    "The Mccain-Kenneedy bill"

    Greg was referring to 2006 CIR, which was way better for legal immigrants than 2007 version.

    I think it is early for Obama to start celebrating: due to various social pressures (about voting against a person of color) it may be that quite a few people lie to pollsters.

    I am also convinced that all McCain's ugly rethoric is campaign generated. He is not a bad man, no reason to be scared of him, I think.

    I am hoping that McCain is also planning what to do if he is elected, and I do not mean immigration. The way McCain and Obama sound neither has a clue what to do with the economy. I don't know either, but it is one of them who would have to keep things running.
  6. AD's Avatar
    McCain has a good long record in the Senate, but it is really Palin that is the cause for the scare. There's a good chance that with her in office the country will tilt even more towards Christian fundamentalism. I want my kids learning science in school, not religious superstition.
  7. Another Voice's Avatar
    If immigration is going to have a chance in better to do it on the first term of a potential Obama presidency. It will take advantage of a potential legislative strength for the dems as well as to win for a long time the loyalty and vote of the Hispanic community which will only help his position for a potential second term. Specially if most polls show that it is no a priority for the people it can be done more as part of a legislative agenda for the country than a partisan agenda. No one said that fixing immigration was going to be a walk in the park but it does have a better chance to do it in the first 100 days than in a potential second term, you got to show that you will do what you told people you were going to do or you would be handing the issue off to the republicans for 2012 and can kiss off the Hispanic vote.
  8. Pankaj's Avatar

    I think you're being too optimistic.

    It is true that immigration is not the issue on voters' minds right now, and that's reflected in all the polls. But there are some very good reasons for it:

    . The economy is really in the crapper.
    . There is no high-profile CIR bill in Congress right now.

    None of those reason indicate that people would be favorable to comprehensive reform were it to be brought up again. The second one is more obvious - were there a high profile CIR bill in Congress again, immigration would by default be on people's minds. Given the state of the economy, people would wonder why Congress was talking immigration, and worse, the circumstances would probably bring out the worst kind of xenophobia.

    Better right now to lay low, pass piecemeal reform and attempt comprehensive reform again in two years.
  9. ASDF's Avatar
    If Prez Obama cannot get a CIR done in the first 6 months of his presidency, believe me its not going to happen.

    You have a fresh president without baggage, you have the house and senate to yourself and you still cant deliver, forget it.

    CHC will again kill any meaningful EB reform in the name of illegals so that all of us can sulk.I can see how this is going to play out. All the right wing nut jobs and even folks who are voting for obama moderates and independents will jump on the anti CIR bandwagon to jam the phone lines, the moment CIR comes on the floor.

    public memory is short lived. If Dems dont have the guts to vote way early in a congressional session, they definitely will not have the guts in the election year.
  10. doreen's Avatar
    The supporters of CIR need to get on the case and act NOW. The reason why the Senate bill was killed in 2007 was that the rightgwing nuts were organized so well they started a media fear-mongering frenzy and managed to jam the Senate's phone lines.

    Now the supporters of CIR need to organize, possibly take advantage of the already existing ground organization that Obama built and use it after Nov. 4th to push for the reform. It's not going to happen by itself. Work needs to be performed. Want an immigration reform? Get involved! Prove again that change happens from the bottom up.

    No doubt we're going to have Obama as the next President. while the current polls are probably inaccurate in the sense that lots of people are embarrassed to admit they won't vote for a person of color, on the other hand Obama has successfully registered millions of new voters and that is also not reflected in the polls...
  11. ben's Avatar
    If you want to help the Comprehensive immigration Reform become reality in 2009, sign this electronic petition that will be delivered to the newly elected President and Congress on December 1, 2008:

    And forward the link to all your contacts.
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