Immigration debate in America
Kyle Palmer | Thursday, February 19, 2015
Last year on Nov. 20, just weeks after suffering a decisive defeat in the midterm elections, President Obama decided that he would circumvent Congress without giving them a chance to act by putting forth executive actions that would halt deportations of 4 million immigrants who came to the United States illegally. This announcement was met with loud opposition from the Republican Party, which was just elected to be the majority party in both the U.S. House and Senate, and 26 states pressed a U.S. District Court judge to stop President Obama’s actions.
On Monday, soon before the actions were to take effect in earnest, the request was granted and U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen stopped President Obama’s efforts. This means that the administration will have to make its case for whether or not it was stepping outside the bounds of the executive branch.
All this goes to highlight a perpetual issue that needs to be dealt with and a continuing theme to the current political dialogue. U.S. immigration policy needs to be reformed; virtually all voices of the political spectrum agree that the policies are not working as they were intended. The problem is that no side seems willing to work with the other. Some Republicans demand a plan that includes all of their ideas and none from the Democrats, and President Obama peddles the same attitude when he pushes through immigration actions without even trying to negotiate with a newly-elected Congress. Both sides fail to recognize that the other was elected with a mandate. This seems to create a paradox, but instead it should show that Americans want the two sides to come together and negotiate so the country can move forward.
The closest thing we’ve had in the last decade to a comprehensive solution to the immigration crisis came in 2013 with Senate Bill 744, a bill crafted by what was called the “gang of eight,” which included Democrats Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Michael Bennet and Bob Menendez, and Republicans Marco Rubio, John McCain, Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham. The bill, officially known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, was 1198 pages long. It satisfied most of the demands of both parties by offering a path for immigrants to become citizens, securing the border by sending vast resources to the border as well as 40,000 more border patrol agents, and encouraged educated individuals to come to the United States to begin working on becoming citizens. While cost is often cited as an issue, the Social Security Administration reported that if this bill were to take effect, it would only cost $33 billion while raising revenues of $276 billion over the next ten years. The Congressional Budget Office actually estimates enacting this bill would lower the deficit by hundreds of billions. S.B. 744 passed the Senate with bipartisan support by a vote of 68-32. It was sent to the House, but was never brought up for consideration.
Since then, no progress has been made in the immigration debate. I had hope that President Obama would feel compelled to work with Republicans after the midterm election, but before the next congress even began he stifled the debate by implementing his executive actions. Mitch McConnell is one of my favorite senators, not only because he looks like a turtle or that he is a brilliant strategist, but because he is a master negotiator. He has been the voice of reason that was able to bring together President Obama, Harry Reid and John Boehner during fiscal cliff or tax negotiations and get a solution pushed through. It would behoove both Boehner and Obama to listen to McConnell to find an immigration solution. While the House may be the most responsive to the demands of the people and the President is the elected leader of the nation, the Senate remains the world’s greatest deliberative body. While it has been slow going under Harry Reid’s leadership (though to Reid’s credit, SB 744 was passed under him), McConnell may be able to revive its old traditions.
I hope a solution is found, and I agree with most all of SB 744 and am still disappointed that it wasn’t ultimately implemented. Immigration is an issue that has been particularly divisive in this country, and we need a solution that will work long term. I just hope that the next time such a bill comes around, the House is willing to hear it and pass it and the President is willing to sign it.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.