Immigration Amnesty, Still a Dream Away

By Cynthia De Castro/

LOS ANGELES — “I think my pro-amnesty candidate will become president. So, I’m hoping that next year, there will be an amnesty,” said Lita, a Filipina who’s been actively campaigning for her pro-amnesty presidential candidate to her family and friends.

Like Lita, millions of illegal immigrants are wishing for the same thing. But how soon can a comprehensive immigration reform actually happen?

“Don’t hold your breath,” said Tomas Jimenez, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, in a recent newspaper article. Jimenez, whose teaching and research focus primarily on immigration and assimilation, stated in his report that things don’t move that quickly in government.

Will Congress enact your preferred policies next year when there will be a larger Democratic majority and a pro-amnesty president?

A quick review of the past may shed some light on the answer, the report said. When President Bush came into office seven years ago, it was expected that amnesty will be passed shortly thereafter. But even before the terrorists’ 2001 attack, it had run into a wall. Then when the Senate passed an amnesty bill in 2006, veteran Washington hands all said it’s a done deal. But the House drew back and nothing happened. A few months later, when the Democrats took control of Congress, they and the White House again assumed amnesty would roll through quickly. But they couldn’t even get it through the Senate.

Meanwhile, border and worksite enforcement is taking on a momentum of its own. Half of the additional fencing mandated by Congress will be completed by the end of this year, political analysts say that Republican lawmakers and advocacy groups will keep a close eye on further progress. Employing illegal immigrants will continue to become more difficult, as more and more firms sign up for the E-Verify system, including all federal contractors, and as the Social Security “no-match letter” program goes into effect after it overcomes legal challenges.

All this means that when the new president and Congress take office next January, they will not likely want to make legalizing illegal aliens their first priority. Clinton or Obama would be much more likely to use their honeymoon with Congress to try to move forward on health care, while recently McCain pledged that he would not move forward on amnesty until there was “widespread consensus” on the success of border enforcement.

One blogger has theorized that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the least likely or able to move an amnesty through Congress as president. Not only is her rejection of driver’s licenses for illegal aliens a sign of greater caution, but anything she champions would be vehemently opposed by a united Republican bloc in Congress, something that would not happen with Sen. John McCain in the White House.

And, in fact, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, former Clinton White House official and architect of the 2006 Democratic takeover of the House, has said that amnesty would not be taken up until Clinton’s second term.

Analysts say this doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of wrangling over immigration. Senators Ted Kennedy and Arlen Specter are likely to want to keep pushing a big McCain-Kennedy-style amnesty. Smaller immigration measures will come up and could pass, like the DREAM Act, the AgJobs bill or higher caps for certain indentured labor programs like the H1-B or H2-B visas.

But tough enforcement measures could also pass, notably Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler’s SAVE Act, a bipartisan measure with more than 140 co-sponsors that may even get a vote this year. Most importantly, this bill would phase in mandatory electronic verification of all new hires.

If there’s one thing that people can expect regarding immigration policies over the next few years is greater enforcement to significantly reduce illegal immigration. This is what many political observers are predicting. They say that only after the political elite has shown a willingness to enforce the law — and proven that willingness through significant reductions in the illegal population — will the public be ready even to debate proposals for amnesty.

Thus, while voting for a pro-comprehensive immigration reform candidate may be a good step in the right direction for FilAms who are hoping for amnesty , the reality is – it may just take a lot of time before that actually happens.


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