Glued to TV coverage of the Boston bombing terrorist attack, all other news became a distant priority for many Americans. As America internalizes the aftermath of the catastrophe and we band together to overcome heartbreak, there is no better time to re-evaluate what kind of country the U.S. wishes to stand for, and what we shall do in response to our changing society.
Most political activity was suspended in light of Monday's tragedy, but the sun rose the following day, the healing process began, and the country began to move forward, and the issue of immigration reform has returned front-and-center to political and public debate.
Immigration reform has had the misfortune of repeatedly moving to the front of the news cycle and American conscious at an unfavorable time (in the summer coinciding with the Aurora theater shooting; followed by a pairing with the Newtown Massacre in the winter, and now with the Boston bombing in spring), but nonetheless has progressed to a point ready for substantive legislative discussion. The public will inevitably play catch-up as more details are released over the course of the week. So to catch you up, here is what you need to know about the current state of immigration reform.
What’s being sold to Congress and to the public?
The “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013,” crafted by the bipartisan commission, known colloquially as the “Gang of 8” This would be the largest overhaul of U.S. immigration policy in three decades. The Washington Post obtained a 17-page summary of the bill and beautifully broke it down to its key provisions.
Among the many controversial provisions:
- A path to citizenship for eligible immigrations (those who immigrated before the cut-off of December 31, 2011) after 13 years.
- DREAM Act youth (children who were brought to the U.S. by “illegal” immigrants) would be eligible for a green card after five years, and citizenship immediately thereafter
- $3 billion in funding to the Department of Homeland Security to improve border security; half of which would be for fencing
- The implementation of a universal citizenship tracking system
- Elimination of visas reserved for foreign brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens
- The creation of an estimated 220,000 new green cards for immigrants with exceptional work skills
The bill is 100-pages long and will become one of the focal points of discussion in Congress over the next few months.
Who’s selling the bill, and how are they are selling it?
A press event held by members of the immigration reform team was scheduled for Monday but postponed due to the events in Boston. As of Wednesday, the details of the re-scheduled official press event for the rollout of the bill have yet to be released.
Two members of the Gang of 8, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), met with Obama on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the bill. The senators also wrote an op-ed (subscriber content) in the Wall Street Journal titled “A Bipartisan Path to Immigration Reform.”
President Obama has put immigration reform on the top of his second-term domestic agenda. So far, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has stated that the bill, as they understand it, is consistent with the president’s position. Expect more substantial statements from the White House over immigration as the aftermath of the Boston bombing investigation begins to pass.
How will/are people reacting to this?
With much contention, per usual. Conservative critics of the bill are wary of a “path to citizenship” that alludes to “amnesty” and decry that the policy rewards illegal actions, while others are already displeased with the costs associated. Proponents of the bill argue that the time to address the 11 million undocumented immigrant question is now.
For sure, interest groups will tear into and dissect every morsel of this bill. Those expected to attend the press conference (and keep and eye out for these names over the next few months) include: Tom Donahue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president; Eliseo Medina, SEIU secretary-treasurer; Clarissa Martinez, director of civic engagement and immigration, National Council of La Raza; Al Cardenas, chair of the American Conservative Union; and Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform.
Marco Rubio also met with Chris Crane, head of the Immigration and Customs Encocement agents union for his perspective. He, among others, have deferred further comment until careful inspection of the detailed bill.
How is the Boston bombing incident influencing the discussion about border security, safety and immigration – two things that are inevitably linked?
Unfortunately, people are trying to link the Boston bombing to immigration reform. Conservative radio show host Laura Ingraham revealed her concerns over movement of foreigners in and out of the U.S. “It is interesting that at this moment, we are considering legalizing or giving regularized status to millions of people,” Ingraham said on her show Tuesday. “Pretty much none of them have gone through any rigorous background checks.” That sounds like an awful set-up in the event that the alleged perpetrator of the Boston bombing turns out to be a foreign citizen, or non-white U.S. citizen.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has also highlighted his concern in an extremely offensive and explicitly racist comment. “I think we need to go far deeper into our border crossings,” King said Tuesday morning when asked if the Boston incident should delay immigration reform. “We need to take a look at the visa waiver program also, and wonder what we’re doing. If we can’t background check people that are coming from Saudi Arabia, how do we think we’re going to background check 11 to 20 million people from who knows where.”
Though to be fair, this isn’t representative of the entire conservative caucus, with Senators Marco Rubio and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) quick to caution against such statements.
“We should be very cautious about using language that links these two things in anyway. We know very little about Boston other than it was an act of terror,” Sen. Marco Rubio said. ” We don’t know who carried it out or why they carried it out. I would caution everyone about being very careful about linking the two.”
Said Durbin: “That is so unfair. We don’t even know the circumstances behind this tragedy in Boston. This is supposed to be a deliberative body, which means you don’t emotionally respond. You think about it, try to view these issues in a longer term.”
If Twitter is any indication, let the anti-immigrant/anti-islam hate begin (again)
What’s to come?
Two hearings – one this Friday and another on Monday – are scheduled to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Votes from the committee are expected in May. If they pass out of committee, the full Senate will enter debate over the bill. Expect to see amendments aimed to destroy the bill from opponents of the reform, similar to 2007 when the Senate last tried to do immigration reform. Prospects in the house are less promising.
The White House is urging action and the passage of a bill before the month-long annual month-long recess in August. With midterm elections slated in 2014, campaign season will be in full swing upon the return of congressional leaders in September. Though way too early to tell, it does not seem implausible that some politicians might double down and wage their re-election campaigns by positioning themselves either for (by passing a bill) or against (by vehemently blocking) this bill, respectively. With subsequent discussions occurring over gun control, debt, the budget, the Keystone XL pipeline, and now potentially national security, in addition to the chance of unforeseen events – if anything this week has shown us – might this issue or others be traded to ensure victory on other key political fronts?
One thing is for certain: Washington has a lot of work to do before August. Let us see if they will earn their vacation.