Steps for immigration reform cannot be delayed

President Obama very recently gave a major address on the need for comprehensive immigration reform at American University. While he reiterated his personal commitment to such reform especially in light of the events in Arizona where SB 1070 that makes illegal immigration a state crime and provides permission for local police to do immigration inquires has forced the issue of undocumented immigration back into the political limelight.

I do not doubt the President’s commitment to comprehensive immigration reform that will address not only the condition of some twelve million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. (not all Mexican or Latino), but also changing our current legal immigration policies that prolongs an application for legal entry by several years. Many especially poor Mexicans, for example, cannot wait that long in order to care for their families by finding work on this side of the border.

However, the problem for the Obama administration is the timetable of when to introduce or to encourage the introduction of immigration legislation in the U.S. Congress. Given the emotional responses that have made illegal immigration such an explosive issue, it does not seem to me that the Democrats want another issue that might hurt their chances in the midterm elections in November.

Yet, I would encourage the President to at least introduce one part of immigration reform that might stand a good chance of being adopted and this is the so-called Dream Act that would establish a process whereby the undocumented children of undocumented immigrants can come out or the shadows and become legal residents and eventual U.S. citizens. These Latinos for the most part came into the U.S. as young babies with their parents. They had no control over their immigration status and they have grown up in this country and been educated in our schools.

For all practical matters they are Americans in practice and they need to be made Americans in name also. Many of them attend our colleges and universities and will go on to productive careers. Here at my campus, the University of California, Santa Barbara, a number of our Latino students are undocumented and I have had many in classes who have discussed their situation with me. The Dream Act that had been introduced a few years ago under the Bush administration and supported by several Republicans in the Senate, I believe, might have a chance of being adopted in a bipartisan fashion. I do worry that the Republicans have become so totally opposed to any legislation proposed by the Democrats that this would negatively affect the Dream Act. However, it’s possible that enough Republicans in the Senate might still support it to prevent a filibuster and to allow it to pass and then there is no question but that the House would also pass it. At least by introducing the Dream Act, President Obama could not be criticized for only talking about immigration reform, but actually trying to do something about it.

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