The debate around immigration is about to crank up, starting with the revival of the DREAM act, which allows children of immigrants brought to the United States and raised in the public school systems to qualify for higher education financial aid-as a path to citizenship. It’s a good way to stick your toe in the water on this issue, but it really doesn’t get at the crux of the illegal immigration debate.
The real issue here is what to do with those who keep coming, and coming, and coming. Everyone understands the magnitude of the problem and the debate around the residual negative impact that illegal residents have on government services. The counter debate is the residual positive impact illegal immigrant workers have on the economy.
Immigration reform activists are now taking their shot at the Obama administration around what kind of reform it should advance. The Republicans, of course, have taken an anti-immigrant stance that threatens an even greater backlash than the perceived “do nothing” stance activists have hung around the neck of President Obama.
It’s not that Obama wants to do nothing. It’s that immigration reform activists leave little room to craft a position. They didn’t want him to reinforce the border (a real common sense solution in the short run). They didn’t want to open the can of worms around “who should go back” under deportation enforcement. Those policies are viewed as uncompassionate.
When you ask immigration reform advocates exactly what “compassionate” immigration actually is, you get one of two reactions; you get silence with a blank stare, or you get the only answer they know to give, “Amnesty.” Amnesty is the answer no one wants to hear, and is what really fuels the flames of dissent around illegal immigration.
Complicating the debate is this game the Republicans play around their party’s position on illegals. The overwhelming number of Republican candidates drink the “anti-immigration” kool aid when they’re running against each other in the primaries. They try to out do each other when trying to represent who has the toughest stance. Walls, troops, deportation, border reinforcement…you name it — they say it.
You saw it play out in the presidential primaries two years ago. You see it play out in the gubernatorial and congressional primaries this year as candidates hyped “the Arizona Plan.” But strange things happen in the general election when Republicans suddenly get quiet on their immigration reform platform.
The Democrats address it in the context of amnesty, regardless of what they want to say. They know that’s a tough sell in reality, but it locks in the Latino vote. The Republicans address it in the context of “cleaning up the border” which doesn’t sell at all with anybody except those, usually non-Latinos, who live on the border. They don’t want to tip the Latino vote to the Democrats, so they say nothing about immigration during general elections. If asked, they tone it down significantly but they still come off as hostile to immigrants. It really seems hypocritical the way the Republicans use immigrants but don’t want to humanize immigrants.
As always, the one Republican we can always count on to bring a position of integrity to the discussion as it relates to the “Party of No” is retired General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Speaking on Meet The Press last weekend, Powell acknowledged the conflictions around the nation’s acceptance of immigrants in the society and their policy position against immigrants. Powell even admitted he sees them around his house, making repairs. Nobody asks immigrants for their citizenship card when you need cheap labor.
The real point here is that immigrants don’t always work for cheap and all aren’t in the shadows. They may work for cheap when they get over here (illegally), but then they unionize as soon as they can and become beneficiaries of wage equality before they become citizens. That’s the path to citizenship without the citizenship part. That’s the reality of how illegal immigrants become “living wage” Americans long before they become “Americans.” What is the reality to fixing an obvious exploitation glitch in our system?
Even folks in the government understand this most obvious confliction that nobody has the answer to, and we all understand that work and citizenship should go hand in hand. Colin Powell called on his party to break out of its anti-immigration bag and provide some policy solutions to a different kind of crisis in our country. But he didn’t know exactly what those solutions would be.
Powell is wary of his party’s xenophobic rhetoric though. He even called Newt Gingrich’s “Kenyan thinking” comments about President Obama “non-sense.” Immigrants don’t have to be demonized like they were in Arizona, but what is the solution to illegal immigration? There has to be a landing somewhere between amnesty and deportation profiling.
Nobody knows exactly where that landing point is. Therein lies our dilemma around immigration reform.
Hell, if level-headed Colin Powell couldn’t call it, none of us can.
Anthony Asadullah Samad