Narrow window for immigration reform

Sunday November 25, 2012

The Republican Party is undergoing something akin to a battlefield conversion on the issue of immigration, as the November 6 election results have opened Republicans’ eyes to the need to be kinder and gentler to the Latinos and Asian-Americans who strongly supported President Obama. Washington Republi cans are flip-flopping like so many Mitt Romneys, and the president and Senate leader Harry Reid must act quickly if there is indeed a small window in which immigration reform can be enacted.

It apparently never occurred to Repub lican leaders that the vindictive anti-immigrant laws passed in the states by Republican governors and legislators would offend members of the targeted minority groups even if they were born here or legally immigrated here. Buzz phrases like "illegals" and "self-deport" repeated endlessly by Mr. Romney and GOP congressional candidates over the past year had the same impact. Now suddenly aware of grim demographic realities, Republicans will be scrambling to win the votes of minority groups, if not their hearts.

Fed up with Republicans’ spiteful opposition to passage of the DREAM Act, which would give legal status to illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before they were age 16 and have a high school diploma, a GED or have served in the U.S. military, President Obama last August gave those who would be eligible a reprieve from deportation. The DREAM Act should be brought up for a vote in Congress in January, and if it does not pass, the emptiness of Republicans’ new-found support of immigration reform will be exposed. If it passes, the next step is development of a path to citizenship for the estimated 20 million illegal immigrants in the country. Many are doing jobs, like farm labor, critical to the economy and want to be assimilated as citizens.

The so-called Secure Communities program, which requires local police departments to share information with federal customs and immigration officials, must end. Police complain that they can’t function in immigrant communities if they are seen as federal stool pigeons, and the program has led to racial profiling.

Last week, Governor Deval Patrick directed the Massachusetts Board of Education to allow illegal immigrant students to pay resident tuition rates rather than non-resident rates if they meet the same requirements as those of the DREAM Act. This does not constitute an end-run around the Legislature, as opponents claim, because it is a clarification of a policy that arguably should have already been in place, leaving no measure to act upon.

As the governor said, this directive is "not a substitute for comprehensive immigration reform," which can only happen on the federal level. The angry white supremacists and racists haven’t gone away, but the party they aligned themselves with is fighting for demographic survival, which has a sobering effect. Even if the GOP supports immigration reform for selfish reasons rather than altruistic ones, that overdue support will be welcome.


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