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

The State of Immigration Reform: A shift away from empty promises?

Featured Commentary in La Prensa San Diego

By Nancy Landa

President Obama is right about one thing. As he said in his State of the Union address, “…the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.” A sense of urgency was palpable in his request to Congress to send him an immigration bill in the next coming months as he committed to sign it into law immediately.

Without fail, border security was at the forefront; not only did President Obama embraced it as continued immigration policy, but also referenced it as a success of his administration with illegal crossings reaching their lowest levels in 40 years. It was probably safer for him to focus on such statistic rather than the other historic record he has set and for which he has received criticism by immigration advocates: the number of deportations under his first term, currently at 1.4 million.

It is promising to hear President Obama continues to stand firm on keeping a pathway to citizenship as part of the comprehensive immigration reform package. We are yet to see if Democrats will effectively persuade Republicans to warm-up to the idea of including a pathway to citizenship in an immigration plan, a potential contention point in upcoming rounds of negotiations. On the other hand, President Obama repeated much of the Republican rhetoric when he discussed the laundry list of requirements to “earn” this proposed pathway to citizenship: Get background checks, pay taxes and a significant penalty, as well as learn English.

As a former undocumented immigrant that faced the legal technicalities which prevented me to adjust my legal status in 20 years, I realized how complex and broken the immigration system really is. Often times I wonder if President Obama and the so-called bipartisan ‘Gang of Eight’ understand such complexity and if their proposals will actually reform a bureaucracy that is flawed in many ways. From visa processing wait times to detention and removal proceedings, the immigration system shows to lack the flexibility, humanity, and pragmatism that add to its dysfunction.

A two minute speech did not give enough room for elaboration aside from what we have already heard from President Obama on what he envisions in an immigration plan. The same can be said for the much anticipated official Republican response from Senator Marco Rubio. Although there are doubts if enough Republican support will be gathered to reach a deal on comprehensive immigration reform, there is no question they have been forced to be more receptive to work with Democrats toward a solution.

The devil is in the details, and particularly true as reform plans go through the deliberation process in both houses, which will give us a better indication if it will actually be “comprehensive”. But in contrast to four years ago, the immigrant community might actually see real change rather than empty promises. In the words of President Obama, “Let’s get it done. Let’s get it done.”

Nancy Landa is a deported honors graduate and former student President of California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Nancy resides in Tijuana since her deportation in 2009 and has shared her story to highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. You can follow Nancy on Facebook, Twitter or her blog at mundocitizen.com