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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy


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Some readers have emailed me expressing their disappointment that effectively endorsed John McCain in its editorial in today's Immigration Daily:

If we get President Obama, Democrats are going to be euphoric on Jan 20,
2009, and rightly so - being back in the White House, at last, after 8 long
and bitter years. Democrats have not been able to pursue their priorities
for 8 years and we can expect them to act aggressively on their big
priorities immediately after a President Obama takes office. There are at
least four Democratic priorities ahead of immigration: the Iraq war,
universal health care, budget/taxes and energy policy. These are all large,
complex issues and Congress will take most of a President Obama's first term
to work on these. In such a scenario, we will not see any significant
immigration benefits in the foreseeable future.

If we get President McCain, we will still have a powerful Democratic
majority in Congress on Jan 20, 2009. This Congress will be at loggerheads
with him on all the major Democratic priorities. Democrats will want to
bring the troops home whereas Mr. McCain wants them in Iraq for 100 years;
Democrats see a health care crisis whereas Mr. McCain sees none; Democrats
will want increased taxes whereas Mr. McCain would like to cut them;
Democrats want to conserve oil and work on alternative sources of power
whereas Mr. McCain would like to drill for oil all over the map. Democrats
and a President McCain will be 180 degrees apart on all major Democratic
priorities. In this bitter fighting hardly anything will get done
legislatively, and both Democrats and Mr. McCain will be looking for
opportunities to show the country that they can work on something together.

While there are a few areas of agreement between Mr. McCain and
immigration is the largest issue on which Democrats and McCain agree.
the current Republican Party platform is the most anti-immigrant one in
memory, there were news reports that Mr. McCain, who has a long track
of being pro-immigration, tried to make it more immigration-friendly
failed. This is the issue on which he is most likely to stab his
anti-immigrationist wing in the back both in his political interests
and due to
his own convictions (Mr. McCain had to fight his party's
anti-immigrationists tooth and nail during the Republican primaries).
We expect to see almost all of the original
McCain-Kennedy bill become law during the first six months of a McCain

The Bush era has been the worst in memory for immigration advocates. However
the combination of a powerful Democratic majority in Congress with Mr.
McCain as President offers the best hope for speedily obtaining desperately
needed immigration benefits.

I strongly disagree with this conclusion. While I think that in their hearts, both McCain and Obama are pro-immigration, I do not agree with the editorial's conclusion that McCain will reach across the aisle and push through a reform bill in order to show he can get something done.

First, it's not clear that he would even try. During this presidential campaign, he had the opportunity to reach out to Democrats and choose Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Instead, he chose a candidate designed to appeal to his base. When governing, the same pressures will exist.

Second, Democrats are not likely to cut McCain very much slack in general and McCain will need to maintain strong allies in his party in order to have any hope of moving his agenda along. I very much doubt he'll alienate them when he'll be governing from a weak position from day one.

Third, McCain will not want to be seen as flip-flopping yet again and reversing his position that he wants to pass enforcement legislation first. He has already lost a great deal of credibilty by abandoning his earlier support of immigration reform and to reverse again will be impossible to defend as anything other than an admission that he lied to get elected.

As for Obama, as I noted the other day, if he wins it will probably be because of the Hispanic vote. And he'll have only one way he'll be able to pay back that community - with a push for immigration reform. He stated in the party platform that he would pass immigration reform in the first year. The McCain platform didn't even endorse immigration reform, much less commit to a timetable. Obama also knows that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has blocked popular immigration bills in the current session of Congress as a protest against not moving comprehensive reform legislation and they could very well expand that effort to block the new President Obama's broader legislative agenda if he turns his back on his promise. My guess is that Obama will turn to immigration reform almost immediately and get this issue out of the way.

The editorial's statement that immigration is not a major issue for the Democrats is simply incorrect. It is likely to be THE issue that gets Obama elected. And it is likely to be the toughest issue he'll have to address. That's why he's likely to deal with it during his honeymoon period rather than wait on it to come up in the middle of his term when he'll be thinking about re-election. Hispanic voters are going to be absolutely critical to Obama getting a second term - probably even more so than this year.

If immigration is your number one issue, I think Obama is the better candidate.

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  1. George Chell's Avatar
    However, Obama has also made some statements on skilled immigrants including nurses that could make one ponder! I would suggest that in the even McCain gets elected, the Dems should print out the McCain immigration agenda on his website, pass exactly that agenda and force his to sign the bill with his agenda or force him again to back out of the agenda. It may not pass in 2009, but after the GOP gets wiped out in the Congress and at local levels in 2010 giving Dems an upper hand in redistricting, McCain will triangulate his racist white wing especially the southern white wing and sign the immigration bill not very different from what Bill Clinton did with welfare reform in 1996.
  2. Sid's Avatar
    McCain has backtracked on most of the issues he used to support to appease the core Republican base - he was against Bush tax cuts, was pro-choice, supported the CIR. Watch the Daily Show video called "Reformed Maverick".

    The EB community is not comfortable with Obama either because of his close association with Durbin and some of it is justified. Think about this though, if the economy continues to be in free fall, what the hell are we going to do with GCs?

    I know people who've become citizens recently and earn more than 300K, so theoretically they should vote for McCain. Even they think that it'll take 10-20 years to clean up the mess that Bush is leaving behind and are afraid that the U.S. may never recover if John Bush comes to power (For those who didn't get the reference google for "Tom Ridge John Bush").
  3. Rusten Hurd's Avatar
    Thanks for posting this, Mr. Siskind. I was one of those who emailed you regarding my concern and I am glad to see you responded quickly, eloquently and correctly. Below is my letter to the editor:

    Dear Editor,
    I was very disappointmed to read your 9/17/08 article asserting, in part, that "McCain as President offers the best hope for speedily obtaining desperately needed immigration benefits." As an immigration practitioner and a staunch propenent of comprehensive immigration reform I am shocked by your suggestion and could not disagree more strongly. Remember, just as recently as a few months ago in one of the Republican primary debates, Senator McCain noted that he would not have even voted in favor of the McCain-Kennedy bill based on the need to focus on enforcement first. In fact, he has restated on several occasions since the bill died that he has heard the will of the American people that border security must be achieved initially before any consideration may be given to providing rights for immigrants. Conversely, Senator Obama's plan (found here: places a strong emphasis on the comprehensive immigration reform that McCain has only given lukewarm support, at best, over the last year.

    Additionally, you would appear to assert that a President McCain may provide quicker immigration reform based on political pragmatism. You suggest that the Democrats would have bigger fish to fry (such as Iraq, Health Care and the Economy) and therefore Immigration would fall to the backburner whereas immigration would be the one area where perhaps a President McCain and congressional democrats could find common ground. I think such an argument is both myopic and dangerous for anyone seeking comprehensive immigration reform. First, McCain has established priorities including extending the Bush tax cuts, eliminating congressional earmarks and cutting federal spending and I see no reason why he will thank the conservative base who helped to ensure his election by turning against them immediately on immigration reform aside from an enforcement based proposal. Second, please remember that President Bush was also allegedly in favor of immigration reform and was in favor of the McCain-Kennedy bill as well -- if President Bush was unwilling or unable to push congress to pass immigration reform how can anyone feel that a President McCain will be more likely to immediately push for passage. Finally, Senator Obama has frequently asserted that immigration reform would be a "top priority" in the first year of his administration. Plainly, the best chance for comprehensive immigration reform is to elect Senator Obama and a pro-immigration congress.

    In conclusion the best evidence I can come accross concerning Senator Obama's fervent support for immigration reform was his speech given less than two months ago to the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington. Speaking to the members of the League, Senator Obama pledged: "I marched with you in the streets of Chicago to meet our immigration challenge. I fought with you in the Senate for comprehensive immigration reform. And I will make it a top priority in my first year as President - not only because we have an obligation to secure our borders and get control of who comes in and out of our country. And not only because we have to crack down on employers who are abusing undocumented immigrants instead of hiring citizens. But because we have to finally bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows." I urge everyone reading this who has an interest in immigration reform to do everything they can to help Senator Obama to become President and finally bring so many out of the shadows.
  4. Legal and no longer waiting's Avatar
    "Think about this though, if the economy continues to be in free fall, what the hell are we going to do with GCs?"

    Use them to go to Canada for job interviews ;-)
  5. George Chell's Avatar
    "Think about this though, if the economy continues to be in free fall, what the hell are we going to do with GCs?"

    Use them to go to Canada for job interviews ;-)"

    What is a GC? Other than George Chell of course! I dont believe there will be any reform until the economy recovers. Dont see it happening at least until the middle of 2009. I think we need to push for the inclusion of Finance and Business in the STEM profession. We dont have qualified Business or Finance people unless there is rampant discrimination against qualified blacks and minorities who are US citizens. If, however, the Dan Mudds and Fulds are the best we have in this country we need more immigration of business and finance people, not less. Anti-immigrant groups have been urging me to sign a petition against the recapture of the EB visas. I keep telling them that if they can show me qualfied Americans who can get us out of the current banking and finance mess, I will support their cause. I get vitriol from them in return. Perhaps these people have lots of money, enough to retire. I dont, and I dont care where the managers come from as long as they recover my 401K value by the time I call it a day in fifteen to twenty years time!
  6. yave begnet's Avatar
    Greg, I think your diagnosis is right. Nobody is talking now about Bush's commitment to CIR and his love of immigrants. Whatever was "in his heart" proved to be malleable or politically irrelevant. And now, the raids.

    I see no reason for McCain to act differently once in power. Border security first means continued raids. McCain's recent efforts to obscure Obama's position on CIR while avoiding taking a firm position himself mean that those of us hoping for meaningful positive reform can't rely on what might or might not be in his heart.
  7. hmm's Avatar
    I think it is less important who is President, neither choice is a disaster for immigration purposes. What matters is who wins the Congress. Bush did support (some form of) CIR, yet this did not go anywhere, and this was hardly his fault.
  8. hmm's Avatar
    Also if elected, McCain will be braver than Bush, because McCain need not worry about getting reelected for the 2nd term (for health reasons). So I think there is a decent chance that once he is a President, McCain will suddenly start doing what he thinks is right, not what he has just promised to his conservative frienemies.

  9. George Chell's Avatar
    As I said the Dem congress should pass the McCain immigration agenda exactly as it is put out in his website and send it to him for signature.
  10. yave begnet's Avatar
    "McCain need not worry about getting reelected for the 2nd term (for health reasons)."

    Do you have evidence to support his assertion? Reagan was no spring chicken but that didn't stop him from running twice. I see no shortage in McCain's reserves of ambition that would prevent him from running again in 2012.

    And assuming you are right, do you think Sarah Palin would agree to step down quietly after one term? I don't. What do you think is her position on CIR? I have no idea, but I have concerns.

    "What matters is who wins the Congress."

    Congress is more important, agreed, but the executive controls a lot of important decisions, like who sits on the BIA, who is appointed as IJ, who gets nominated for federal judgeships, when (if ever) T visa regs are released, whether U visa applicants can waive the fees for the inadmissibility waiver, whether Haitians get TPS, what happens to the Lozada line of cases, who gets raided and what charges are brought (criminal or civil), whether ICE is waiting for respondents outside the courtroom, etc. etc. etc.

    Supposedly pro-immigrant Bush has not been a good friend when it comes to decisions that are in his power to make. Quite the reverse, actually.
  11. Legal and no longer waiting's Avatar
    "Bush did support (some form of) CIR, yet this did not go anywhere, and this was hardly his fault. "

    With all fairness, everything Bush touched went up in flames (Iraq war, SS reform, CIR, etc), no matter if what he wanted was good for the country or bad, he managed to screw up everything. The reason why Clinton could get a lot out of very unfriendly republican Congress is because he was smart and knew how to work the political levers to get things moving. Bush does not. And having really poor judgement on issues does not help him, either.
  12. john's Avatar
    I only have one word. who cares..The fact is a lot of companies are worried about the people change and this is another example.

    when the whole coutry is behind obama, he doesnt need any more help. companies like walmart will go the other way thats what we are supposed to see.By saying anything 100 times a lie cannot be you think Mccain is going to defend CIR and change alone in republican party and screw his life. No. He flipped on every thing he did for this nomination. How would you expect him to stand up?. He may have done in the past but he is against it now. if someone think somehow he will implement CIR, they are in fools world.
  13. john's Avatar
    i have nothing against Mccain. But Obama is a new guy. People like him may look risky(due to lack of Bush expereience) but thats what is needed to loosen the red tapism and beurocracy. This country has assets and resources and need a good direction. He will bring that to the table. I disagree with some here. he is going to be good all fronts inluding energy/climate/economy/healthcare and ofcourse war.His ideas are excellent and he got the energy.Don't sit in that corner and say risky again. We are supposed to be in the safest hands and see whats happening. you wake up every day with bad news.where can america go. it can only get better.
  14. USC's Avatar
    I agree wholeheartedly with Greg (I read this blog on a daily basis and have been unable to post as frequently as in the past because of time constraints). Furthermore, McCain's selection of Palin is a very sick joke and reveals a complete lack of judgment on his part!
  15. George Chell's Avatar
    "do you think Mccain is going to defend CIR and change alone in republican party and screw his life. No."

    I suggest that the new Democratic Congress which will have perhaps additional twelve members in the House and four to six in the Senate, pass the McCain agenda as it is put out on his campaign website and send it to him for signature. If he vetoes it use it as a campaign tool to say that McCain cannot be trusted...

    Do it exactly as it is put out in the website and send it to his desk for signature..I mean exactly!
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