Healthcare Fight Continues to Haunt Immigration Reform – But Legalization is in Sight

Congress has yet to make progress on passing immigration reform, and immigrants are getting fed up. As discussed in other blogs on comprehensive immigration reform, the Latino voters who handed Democrats the presidency and strong majorities through states like Nevada and California are among a growing crowd who want America’s broken immigration system to be fixed, and soon.

Yesterday, President Obama met again with leaders from the key interests: immigrant advocates, organized labor, and business groups. All three groups support reform, but in different ways and for different reasons. Business groups favor expansion of guest-worker programs and a laissez-faire approach to work permits for foreign workers, such as H1-B Visas. Labor interests want to protect American workers, so they are chiefly concerned with closing the cost gap between hiring native and foreign workers. And immigrant advocate groups know that immigration reform is good for the economy, but they are also deeply passionate about supporting family unity and stopping the capricious, years-long separation many families endure under current laws.

As National Public Radio reports, Obama also met with the two key senators crafting immigration reform legislation: Democrat Chuck Schumer (NY) and Republican Lindsey Graham (SC). In December Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced the CIR ASAP bill, which outlined a broad proposal for reforming the immigration system. Movement has been much slower in the Senate, where Republicans can do more to stifle the movement of legislation despite being the minority party.

Gutierrez’s bill provided for legalization for many undocumented immigrants through a six-year conditional visa, during which time immigrants would have to prove their merit for legalization by paying taxes, avoiding criminal problems, and learning English. One element of reform that Senators Schumer and Graham are likely to propose is a national biometric identification card, likely a photo ID with digitally stored information that would be required of all U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and illegal immigrants working toward legalization.

The politics of CIR are still murky, and they may be downright ugly. Senator Graham, a Republican who opposes the Democrats’ healthcare reform measure, has threatened that he will not continue to seek Republican support for immigration reform if Democrats use a majority-rule procedure to pass amendments to the controversial healthcare reform package that has passed the Senate. On the other hand, Graham is currently the only Republican at the negotiating table for CIR, so this may be an empty threat.

Realistically, the chances are narrow that a CIR bill will make it to President Obama’s desk before the November elections. Once healthcare reform is passed this month, the Senate will still have to address issues like financial reform and a robust jobs bill as one-third of its members prepare for re-election fights. But by pushing for reform now, Obama may position himself for a victory no matter what: he will either push the Senate to move faster than its usual snail’s pace, and he and the Democrats will deliver reform to the hungry immigrant voters; or the efforts will stall in the face of Republican opposition (or even hurt feelings from the healthcare fight), and Democrats may be able to leverage the powerful Latino bloc against the GOP to avoid major losses in the mid-term elections.

If you want to get involved in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform, look into groups like the National Immigration Forum. You can also contact our immigration law office today to find out about how CIR might impact you and your loved ones, and also to join our email program for updates about reform efforts.

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