Obama needs to act on immigration reform now

by Mario T. García

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Earlier this week, President Obama was in my hometown of El Paso, Texas, to address the issue of comprehensive immigration reform.

He had promised such reform during his presidential campaign in 2008 but never introduced such legislation during his first two years when the Democrats strongly controlled both houses of Congress and chances for such legislation looked promising.

However, the President placed his political capital on legislation to recharge the economy and especially on health care that passed. Immigration reform was put aside.

Now, addressing this issue is more difficult since the Republicans control the House of Representatives and the Democratic majority in the Senate has declined. President Obama’s speech in El Paso was undoubtedly to remind especially Latino voters that he has not forgotten his promise.

Close to 70 percent of Latinos voted for the President in 2008 and he will need every one or close to every one of those votes to possibly win again, especially in key-contested states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada.

Florida is clearly the big prize. Yet Latinos have become more critical of President Obama because of the failure to push immigration reform. U.S.-born Latino and naturalized Latino voters will not be directly affected by such legislation but immigration reform has symbolically come to represent respect for Latinos and their recognition as fully accepted Americans.

This has especially become critical due to the ugly rise of recent nativist or anti-immigrant movements in the country, such as in Arizona, where such movement seems to embody not only anti-immigrant views but also anti-Latino ones. Non-immigrant Latinos by strong majorities support immigration reform as a way of vindicating their legitimate positions as U.S. citizens.

But putting aside presidential politics, what can realistically be done now? There is no way that comprehensive immigration reform is going to be passed in the next year.

However, President Obama should put the Republicans on record of not supporting such reform by still introducing such legislation as the Dream Act that will provide a quick and clear path to legalization for the undocumented children of undocumented immigrants who, through no fault of their own, were brought into the country without papers when they were babies or young children. They have grown up in this country and for all practical purposes are American citizens.

Second, the President, as called for by a May 12 Los Angeles Times editorial, needs to revisit his current policy of increasing the expulsion of undocumented immigrants who have committed certain crimes. While no one supports undocumented felons, the truth is that many others who have only committed misdemeanors are being apprehended and deported, having to leave their families behind. This is not right and not moral. The President needs to pursue a more nuanced strategy that especially will not split families who are here working to provide enough to survive.

I agree with the Los Angeles Times that now is the time for not just talk by the President, but action.


Immigration & the ChurchFor more immigration news, visit NCR's Immigration and the Church blog.


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