Immigration Reform 2013: Why is There Still Opposition?

Unless there is a complete breakdown, Congress will pass and the president will sign the first major immigration reform law since 1986 before the end of the year. Since the start of the 113th Congress in January, there have been bipartisan efforts in both chambers to craft legislation that will be acceptable to both parties as well as a majority of Americans. Both working groups are expected to announce details of their plans this month.

In spite of extensive and growing support for this legislation, which not only addresses the estimated 11–12 million immigrants currently in the country illegally but also the root causes of illegal immigration, there are pockets of opposition. This opposition is based on emotion, border security, and amnesty.

The United States is a country built on the backs of immigrants. Unless one’s ancestry is 100% Native American, we are all decedents of immigrants or we ourselves have immigrated. During tough economic times, this may be forgotten. Some see immigrants as job-stealers and drains on the system. This can resonate with those unemployed or underemployed. The emotion caused by not having a job or the right job becomes a target for those opposed to immigration reform. How can we grant work visas when Americans are out of work?

Border security became an issue following 9/11. Ironically, though, the 9/11 hijackers entered the country legally using over 350 aliases. The border is not the issue. As I wrote in two articles in January, 2012, flaws in our system are responsible for the influx of illegal border crossings and visa overstays. Building a fence will not solve these problems. The proposals coming out of the House and Senate will, conversely, address the systemic problems. However, opponents to immigration reform are concentrating their comments on the perception that all undocumented immigrants illegally crossed our southern border. This ignores those who crossed over from Canada or other ports of entry, and the 45–50% who overstayed legally issued visas. But immigration reform is an emotional issue. Maintaining this emotion requires focusing on illegal entry.

Last week I wrote how the immigration reform package being put together is not amnesty. Amnesty involves no consequences. Current proposals will require fines and back taxes be paid and include a wait of up to 13 years for citizenship. The first ten of those years, no government benefits may be received. These are real consequences.

There is no argument that people in this country without documentation have violated our laws. What is being offered is a plea bargain, a commonly used procedure in our criminal justice system. In order to keep the opposition focused, those leading the effort need to use buzzwords that ignite passion. "Amnesty" serves that purpose, though it has nothing to do with the proposals being discussed.

Barring the unexpected, there will be comprehensive immigration reform this year. The reforms will put in place solutions to the root causes, the systemic issues that encourage people to risk entering or remaining in this country illegally. The ability to enter or remain legally will eliminate the incentive for illegal activity. There are pockets of resistance. Common sense, along with the Republican Party’s desire to strengthen its positions before the 2014 Congressional elections will make this opposition mute.