Deal or No Deal: Will Immigration Reform Survive the Roadblocks of the Past?

When it comes to immigration, the political environment has a sense of déjà vu about it. It seems, we have been down this road before. A possible immigration reform deal that could have changed the legal status for many including my own was close at hand. 2001 seemed to be the year that would see legislation granting permanent residency to undocumented youth, or DREAMers as we know them today. During the months of April through August, bills in both the House and the Senate were introduced and Congress was set to reach a milestone in immigration reform since its last major overhaul enacted in 1986.

But one major event changed everything. September 11, 2001.

How Would a Patriot Act?

The long-term repercussions of such a tragic event were many and in a particular way, felt by the immigrant community. A post 9/11 America searched for safety and security reflected in the Patriot Act of 2001 which essentially blocked any immigration reform efforts under the grounds of terrorism. The young DREAMers would only see the doors closed to the possibility of being embraced as legal residents because we were now seen as a possible threat to national security.

Over the last decade, border enforcement received federal record budget allocations which reached  $18 million in 2012; it has been the guiding principle driving immigration policies.  Add to that the drastic changes in immigration laws that expand ground for inadmissibility and deportation, and what do we have as a result? The growth of a system of expulsion which is today the Department of Homeland Security.

We would like to think that the intention of these measures, increasing national security, is what America was really after. But in fact, it has only served to justify the forced exodus of immigrants that are far from being terrorists. President Obama, who to-date holds the record for deportation levels, continuously states that enforcement immigration agencies are solely focusing on high-priority, criminal and dangerous, immigrants. This could not be further from the truth.

I think of the hundreds of immigrants that daily are forced out to exit through the US-Mexico border as I did four years ago, and on the contrary, the vast majority of deportees are not much different from me. How many terrorist posing real threats to national security have been captured due to the militarization of the Mexico-U.S. border? Yet, it is still deemed as “not secure” by legislators who would like to make immigration reform conditional on achieving unclear levels of security.

It is now 2013 and we are here again. Will the outcome be different this time or are we going to hear more excuses preventing a deal on comprehensive immigration reform?

Published in La Prensa San Diego

Updated: 18-April-13

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