Dear Mr. President,
By now, you should get that nothing you do will please some Republicans, and that includes playing it safe on immigration reform. The very next day after your State of the Union address, some Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, were at it again, blaming their failure to act on their “distrust” of you.
In fact, Rubio went further in noting that immigration reform may not happen at all while you are in office. So why did you play it politically safe by failing to set any legislative markers on immigration reform or announcing any bold executive orders to halt deportation? It was, in my view, a mistake and showed weakness to GOP leaders, who were only too happy to put on a sham show on Jan. 30, rolling out their so-called “Immigration Principles” while hiding behind statements like “border security and interior enforcement must come first.” In so doing, they made clear their “distrust” of you and intention to delay giving undocumented immigrants a shot at legal status in the U.S. only after border security was in place. In other words, only after you have left office, so you cannot claim immigration reform as part of your accomplishments.
The so-called “principles” are nothing but vague pointers that make absolutely no real sense: an entry/exit visa tracking system, enhanced border security, workplace verification, enhanced legal immigration for high-skilled workers, a guest-worker program, “an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship” for the DREAMers and a solution to possibly solving the plight of 11.5 million people.
As the GOP one-pager states: “Our national and economic security depend on requiring people who are living and working here illegally to come forward and get right with the law. There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws—that would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law. Rather, these persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits).”
Criminal aliens, gang members and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program.
What is worse is that the so-called principles suggest that legalization be delayed until “specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.” The GOP does not even address whether immigrants under the new status could obtain green cards and eventually become citizens.
Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, one of the members advocating for immigration reform, told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview that he thinks border security must come first. He said he does not support “amnesty or some special pathway,” but that undocumented immigrants should be able to “get … right with the law,” or, in more direct terms, obtain legal status.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, possibly the most outspoken House Democrat on immigration reform, is right to state that he can’t say “yes” or “no” to a plan with so few details. Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner seems to have awakened from a slumber and realized the problem has been around for more than a decade, insisting to reporters after the release of the much-publicized principles, “The problem has been around for at least the last 15 years and turned into a political football. I think it’s unfair. I think this is the time to deal with it. But how we deal with it is going to be critically important.”
This is the same man who has held off a House vote on the subject for months now.
Mr. President, you are right to say you will have to consult immigration advocacy groups to see what they would want in a final legislation. What you also need to do is quit letting Republicans have their way. Use your executive power as much as possible and lead as you were elected to do.
Felicia Persaud The writer is CMO of Hard Beat Communications, which owns the brands News Americas Now, CaribPR Wire and Invest Caribbean Now.