Immigration is quickly proving to be the stand-out political issue of our time in US politics, and it will only continue to be so as Washington keep refusing to address it- the last time the issue of illegal immigration in particular, was dealt with was 1986, when “amnesty” was granted to 3 million undocumented workers. So does the fact that the Obama administration has failed to resolve the question of immigration comprehensively mean that its record on the issue has been a total failure? And if so, then why has Obama been the victim of such toxic criticism from the Right, when Bush Senior, Clinton, and George W Bush’s efforts should also therefore be judged total failures?
It is somewhat ironic that the 1986 bill was enacted by the Reagan administration, who must rank very close to Jesus in terms of Tea Party idolisations, and it is actually easily understood as to why no comprehensive policy has succeeded it: it was not an issue for George HW Bush, as the its urgency had been attenuated by Reagan’s “amnesty”, while Clinton was blocked by the Republicans on practically every proposal that followed healthcare reform and mild gun control. George W Bush fell victim to the same practice in 2004, with the proposed guest worker programme and 2007, leaving behind just a 700 mile fence covering a 2000 mile US-Mexican border as part of the 2006 secure fences act, showing that the Democrats themselves are no saints when it comes to killing bills one agrees with to advance electoral interests (as there was a Presidential election looming in 2008, they couldn’t possibly be seen to agree with the by now extremely unpopular Bush). However, Bush’s efforts did bear some- albeit limited- success, so therefore it is unfair to describe his administration’s record on immigration as a total failure. Obama’s record meanwhile has arguably achieved more. Although the actual DREAM Act, providing a path to citizenship for those children who had entered the US as children of illegal immigrants, and had either served in the military and been honourably discharged, or had a high school diploma, was unsurprisingly blocked by the House, he enacted an executive order last summer. It therefore bypassed Congress, and instead instructed the Department of Justice to enforce several elements of the DREAM Act without legislative approval. In short, the order allows for illegal immigrants under the age of 31, who had entered the country when they were below 16 and had lived in the US continuously since 2007 to be given a path to citizenship, provided they have a clean criminal record, and have, again, graduated high school or have served in the military. However, just as the Democrats’ refusal to pass Bush’s reforms in 2007, this executive order was also politically motivated- whilst it obviously reflected Obama’s desire to resolve the issue of illegal immigration, if only partially, it was also instrumental in gaining the support of Hispanic voters just a few months before the Presidential election of last year. Obama ultimately won 71% of the Hispanic vote, although they were as much alienated from the Republicans (see Romney’s “self-deportation” proposals in the election run-up) as they were drawn to the Democrats. It seems then, when judged against previous presidents, Obama’s record on immigration has been comparatively successful.
Nonetheless if one is to define the phrase “total failure” as “total failure to deliver comprehensive immigration reform, regardless of any legislation that attempts to only partially address the issue”, then Obama has failed thus far. However, immigration is arguably the political issue that currently appears least stained by ideological divides between the two parties. A compromise to appease both parties is blindingly simple: toughen up on border enforcement- which Obama has already done, in changing the way the federal government audits the employees of companies suspected of hiring undocumented workers, as well as increased deportations (1.2 million in the first three years of his presidency, higher than any other president)- to satisfy the Republicans, and provide a fair path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country. Since the Republicans’ disastrous showing in 2012 amongst Hispanic voters, it is in their interests to portray themselves as more conciliatory. After all, there is actually a lot of common ground between Hispanics and the GOP. As many are fleeing from communist regimes, particularly Cuba, the appeal of the free market, a cornerstone of Republican economic policy, as well as the religious social conservatism that accompanies it, seems very attractive to many Hispanics. John Boehner assured us at the start of the year that he was “confident that the President, myself and others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all”. This less aggressive stance has even reached right wing Fox news host Sean Hannity, who said his views of the issue had “evolved”, to the surprise of almost everyone. A bill was authored this year that passed the Senate, providing basically the measures mentioned above- border enforcement and a path to citizenship- as well as automatic green cards for those foreign students who had graduated university in the US with a masters or doctorate in science, technology, engineering or maths. But this bill will almost certainly fail to pass the House; indeed, Boehner has since said there is no chance of even a vote on the bill. Although Tea Party Congressmen would obviously vote against the bill, so too would many more moderate Republicans out of fear of a Tea Party challenge in the primaries for next year’s mid terms. Finally they would vote against it simply because Obama considers it to be a good idea.
So far, the record of the Obama administration on immigration has not been wholly successful, but certainly not a total failure, and no more so than his predecessors. The prospects for these reforms are currently very slim, but it would appear that the mid terms will prove vital to the prospects of whether Obama’s record on immigration can be considered as a total failure- it is presently too early to tell. But it is beginning to look as if the Tea Party minority who brought about the shutdown a few weeks ago, one of whom was actually my representative in Tennessee, Chuck Fleischmann, have effectively lost themselves their seats. Polls in the first week of the shutdown show that the Democrats have the edge over the Republicans in 17 districts currently controlled by the GOP. And how many seats are needed to take back the House in 2014? Seventeen. This number has now spiralled upwards to 37. If the Democrats can actually win in these districts, the fundamental barrier to comprehensive immigration reform, the TEA party, will be dislodged, and perhaps Obama’s legacy on immigration will not be seen as a total failure.
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