North Texas Daily

Opinion: New year brings concerns for immigration reform

Opinion: New year brings concerns for immigration reform

December 31
15:10 2013

Obed Manuel / Senior Staff Writer

For the estimated 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, 2013 has been another disappointing year.

With less than a week left and the Obamacare rollout as the focal point of political discussion, the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in the spring appears to be in political limbo, according to UNT professors and political analysts.

House Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, R-Florida, a supporter of reform, told the Washington Post earlier this month that immigration reform’s chances for passage this year are gone and its prospects for next year are slim.

“I’m hopeful that we can get to it early next year,” Diaz Balart said to the Washington Post. “But I am keenly aware that next year, you start running into the election cycle. If we cannot get it done by early next year, then it’s clearly dead. It flatlines.”

Political science professor Elizabeth Oldmixon, a scholar of congressional politics, said immigration reform’s chances of passage narrowed because of the difference of priorities in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democrat-led Senate.

For Democrats, Oldmixon said, the top priorities are securing the Affordable Care Act, immigration reform, raising the minimum wage and tightening gun control measures. For Republicans, the focus is solely on economic issues, like repealing Obamacare and reducing the deficit.

“There are a core group of Republicans that understand comprehensive immigration reform is really important to the success of their party in the long run, but they have been eclipsed by the more conservative, Tea party-oriented Republicans who see this as amnesty and as an effort by the Democratic party to win the Hispanic vote,” Oldmixon said.

Bryan Herrera, political science senior and president of the UNT council of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the effort to push for general immigration reform this year was too demanding. Herrera, who is involved in the grassroots effort pushing for reform, said he would have preferred a step-by-step approach.

“We wanted the whole thing,” Herrera said. “And, as you can see, we’re not going to get it.”

Alonso Salas, a 2012 UNT graduate and state treasurer for LULAC in Utah, said he believes the push for immigration reform is not over yet because the political stakes for the Republican Party are too high.

“Republicans know they have to do something about it,” Salas said. “They don’t have a sense of urgency just yet.”

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which was signed into law by Republican President Ronald Reagan, was the last major overhaul of the immigration system.

The law increased border security, intended to crack down on employers of undocumented workers and granted amnesty to about 2.7 million undocumented immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Since then, the undocumented immigrant population has more than doubled, and the past three presidents pushed for immigration reform but were left empty-handed by a reluctant Congress.

Bill Clinton pushed for strict reform in 1996 that aimed at stemming illegal immigration. George W. Bush unsuccessfully pushed for a guest worker program in 2004.

In 2005, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill that met its end in the House of Representatives.

In 2007, Bush pushed for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that was strongly criticized by the more conservative wing of the Republican Party.

President Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009 with the promise that immigration reform would be voted on during his first year in office.

Political science professor Valerie Martinez-Ebers, a scholar on Latino Politics, said that another roadblock for immigration reform is the current attitude toward the Hispanic community.

“When Reagan pushed that, nobody was really aware of the demographic shift that was occurring,” Martinez-Ebers said.

The Pew Research Center estimates that by 2030, 40 million Hispanics – about 11 percent of the total estimated population – will be eligible to vote.

Salas, who is an undocumented immigrant, said the growing base of Hispanic voters is what Republicans will have to eventually deal with.

“The Republican Party is making a big mistake by standing in the way of reform,” Salas said. “They’re going to pay for it in 2016.”

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