By Armando Vázquez-Ramos and Primitivo Rodríguez
The U.S. government shutdown may be the proverbial last nail on the coffin for immigration reform legislation this year. For the same reason it will signal the start of the 2014 congressional election campaign. The acrimony between both parties, and the GOP’s disdain for President Obama’s health reform law would most likely end any hope for immigration reform this year.
President Obama should note the lead Gov. Jerry Brown of California has taken when he signed nine pro-immigrant laws last week. They include the TRUST Act that rejects the Obama administration’s despicable ‘secure communities’ policy and grants undocumented immigrants the right to apply for driver’s licenses.
“While Washington waffles on immigration, California’s forging ahead,” Governor Brown said. “I’m not waiting.”
Immigration reform for undocumented immigrants
This is precisely the reason why the president must grant temporary protection to all undocumented immigrants. He should authorize a process to register all those who would benefit from the legalization process.
It will protect these immigrants until Congress legislates sensible reform. And it will force Republican legislators to recognize the economic benefits and the political consequences of their continued demonization of immigrants.
Unless there’s a providential sea-change brought about by nationwide protests, the impasse in Congress leads us to conclude there is no compromise. Sadly, immigrants will float in the sky as a political football for both parties until the 2014 congressional elections. This will also mark the last two years of the Obama presidency.
By granting temporary protection, Obama would secure a ‘Lincolnian’ legacy and counter the poisonous tea party influence controlling the GOP and clear a path for him to focus on the budget sequestration and the debt limit battles.
Ironically, Obama is about to surpass the two million deportation mark during his fewer than five years in office. This exceeds the number of Mexicans deported during the Depression of the 1930s, the decade of the Repatriation Act.
History will judge the path Obama follows: emancipator or deporter-in-chief president. He has the authority and moral responsibility to act on his stated values and end the political charade, as Governor Brown has done to the extent of state (not federal) powers.
In addition to the fundamental humanitarian rationale for the president’s protective executive action — the far most important reason for acting — he has a potent economic cause. The United States needs the income. Immigrants contribute a net economic benefit that brings in revenue, subduing the crises currently holding Washington hostage.
As President Reagan once observed: “America is at its best when the doors are open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” He should have added that that we are at our worst when we fail to act for lack of guts.
Professor Armando Vázquez-Ramos is a co-founder of the California State Long Beach Chicano and Latino Studies Department and president of the California-Mexico Studies Center (www.california-mexicocenter.org), and Primitivo Rodríguez Oceguera is a research associate at El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City.