New Immigration Law 2013: Republicans Are Worried About Midterms, Not Their Party's Future

The House will start its own set of negotiations for new immigration legislation this week as Republicans decide which is more important: their conservative values or their party’s future. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill 68 to 32 last month, with support from all Democrats and only 14 Republicans. 

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a fierce opponent of the legislation, says this bill will “flood the U.S.” with immigrants and “rob Americans of jobs.”  While 69% of Republicans believe immigrants are “hard workers who should have an opportunity to stay,” 68% of those same Republicans agree with Sessions and say legalization would drain government services, and 66% think it would cost U.S. jobs. 

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) says the debate will get “ugly” before it is passed, but it will get passed. He, along with many other politicians, believes our system doesn’t work. The problem is, there are different opinions on whom it doesn’t work for.

On Monday, House Speaker John Boehner made it very clear that the House will be drafting its own immigration reform plan, even with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) saying, “Eventually he’ll be forced to take the bill that we passed here, or the country will be left with no immigration reform at all. Which is a bad, bad outcome.” 

As the Huffington Post reports, “The [Senate’s] immigration bill would shift the emphasis of U.S. immigration policy away from family ties and put more weight on employment prospects, education and relative youth.” This bill creates a new “merit-based visas” system for granting permanent resident status, which means immigrants can gain “points” toward citizenship in areas such as education, employment experience, the needs of U.S. employers, and ties to U.S. citizens. 

The Republican plan, as Boehner has alluded to, will have a stronger element of border security than the Senate proposal. However, if the Republicans want to show they really care about immigration reform, they will need to consider the positive “human” elements of this Senate bill.

The sad part is our politicians are thinking (and always have been, unfortunately) about immigrants in terms of political clout. Because 8.4% of the voting population is Hispanic, Republicans have realized that they can no longer keep marginalizing this group of people. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the composition of the voting population has dramatically changed from 1996 to 2012 to favor minority groups. The black, Hispanic, and Asian populations all saw their shares of the eligible electorate and voting population increase while the non-Hispanic white share of the eligible population dropped from 79.2% in 1996 to 71.1% in 2012. Non-Hispanic whites' share of the voting population also decreased from 82.5% in 1996 to 73.7% in 2012. 

The American Civil Liberties Union offers a detailed investigation of the positives and negatives of the Senate bill from a human rights perspective. It applauds the bill’s improvement to the due process of deportation to consider individual circumstances, the due process protections for incarcerated immigrants, and its roadmap to citizenship for 11 million people nationwide. 

The ACLU addresses some of the negative aspects of the bill including its expansion of border enforcement expenditures, which it says "are wasteful, unnecessary and lack government oversight or accountability, and they put everyone who lives, travels, and works near the border at risk.”

For the sake of the Republican Party (oh, and of course immigrants, right?), the House should really consider keeping these positive elements of the Senate bill in place, and focus less on how big and strong a fence we can make.