5 Reasons to be Pessimistic About Immigration Reform

As excited as everyone is about the possibility of comprehensiveimmigration reform finally coming to pass in Obama’s final term, there are a number of reasons why one should temper their optimism.  Here are five things that should give one pause about the prospects of any legislative attempts to overhaul immigration now.

First, the devil is truly in the details of any large bill like the ones being drafted in both chambers of Congress now.  The two likely most difficult sticking points are the sequencing of the enforcement and benefits parts of the law and the specifics about a new system that is supposed to make it easier for employers to figure out which persons are in fact legally eligible to work in the U.S. We know that whatever bill emerges will have an enforcement component and a benefits component.  But the sequencing and timing of the two parts is in dispute. In the Senate proposal, the Republicans have insisted that no benefits will be given out until the new beefed up enforcement measures have been implemented.nnUp in the air is who exactly gets to determine when the border is sufficiently secured and using what measures will that assessment be made.

The other difficult detail that has to be worked out is the specifics of the verification system for employers.  The leading two proposals both have major flaws.  Mandating a national ID card would raise civil liberties concerns while pilot projects of the E-verify database, that is linked to one’s Social Security number instead of a physical card has shown a high error rate in the database that can disrupt people’s lives. 

Second, Obama realizes that he had promised immigration reform to the Latino community as far back as his first term, and he also likely realizes that the Democratic party’s Latino support was due in some measure to the perceived hostility of the GOP rather than the incredible responsiveness of the Democratic party. But on immigration, the president seems to have an enthusiasm deficit as compared to gun control and economic policies. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary likely had the effect of causing gun control legislation to leapfrog immigration in gaining the President’s attention and in galvanizing national support for major policy change. Also, the gun violence issue is personal to Obama being that his home city of Chicago suffers this plague at a rate that far outpaces major American cities such as New York and Los Angeles. Immigration simply isn’t as personal an issue to the President than gun violence or the economic policies that help the middle class, the centerpiece of his election and reelection campaign.

Third, although both houses of Congress are currently working on immigration legislation, the prospects for the passage of a bill are stronger in the Senate than in the House of Representative.  Even if Speaker Boehner realizes that the passage of an immigration bill is essential to his party’s electoral viability down the road, it is unclear that he can deliver the needed number of GOP votes to pass the bill. The situation is reflective of the fissures in the GOP itself that still coexists uneasily with its Tea Party wing.  Many House GOP members will feel vulnerable on an immigration vote that may subject to Tea Party primary challenges.

Fourth, it may be political important for both parties to pass immigration legislation, but the brute fact remains that the unemployment rate is still 7.9%, with even higher rates for new college grads and those who without a college degree.  It will be a tough political sell for any politician regardless of their party affiliation if they were to vote for an immigration law that would appear to grant benefits to persons who broke the law to be within the United States while so many “real” Americans are still out of work.  What immigration scholars know is that predictably, in times of economic recession, hostility toward immigrants is the highest.

Finally, in both party’s zeal to grant some form of a pathway to citizenship (whether one wishes to call it legalization, amnesty or earned citizenship) to reach out to Latinos, the tradeoff might be some truly draconian enforcement measure that will create even more problems down the road.   Both parties feel that they must pass some form of immigration legislation that is regarded as beneficial to Latinos, but in that push, what will the tradeoffs on the enforcement side be?  It may be that a comprehensive reform is not a very pro-immigrant one.