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As Long as We Remember...

November 18, 2010

Immigration Reform

Kevin E. Dayhoff

The new Congress may have a better chance at enacting comprehensive immigration reform than the Democrat-controlled Congress of the last two-years and since the election of President Barack Obama.


New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said last Saturday morning that he believes “the chances are improved, not dramatically improved….” He was speaking at a breakfast presentation at the Capitolbeat local and state government reporters’ annual conference in downtown Phoenix, AZ.


Governor Richardson noted the election of four additional Hispanic Republicans to Congress helped improve the chances of comprehensive immigration reform – but not dramatically.


Now that the midterm elections are over, opinions and news reports as to the prospects of a comprehensive reform to our nation’s immigration policy are all over the map.


Of course, President George W. Bush, the former governor of one of the four states that border Mexico, was quite familiar with the challenges posed by illegal immigrants.


In one the rare moments of bi-partisanship during his administration, his efforts to bring about reform met with opposition from both parties.


I was struck by, as were several political writers, the passage from President Bush’s recently released memoir, “Decision Points,” that read:


“I traveled across the country touting the bill, especially its emphasis on border security and assimilation. Passions ran high on both sides of the issue....


“Meanwhile, a huge crowd of legalization supporters marched through major cities waving Mexican flags, an in-your-face display that offended many Americans.


“(T)he chairman of the Democratic Party compared the temporary worker program to ‘indentured servitude.’ The head of America’s largest labor union labeled the reform build ‘anti-family and anti-worker.’ ”


Whether you were for the Bush Administration initiative or against it; one thing is clear, the mind-numbing demagoguery and rhetoric has only since gotten worse, especially since expectations were raised during the 2008 presidential campaign that President Obama would solve the immigration problem because he was elected with an overwhelming control of both houses in Congress.


This brings us to last week’s Capitolbeat conference, in which journalists from all over the nation converged on Phoenix. And since the conference was located in Arizona, the 800-pound gorilla in the room throughout the conference was immigration reform.


“I see this law as having real problems… This is a federal responsibility,” remarked Governor Richardson in reference to Arizona’s tough new immigration law, which was signed into law on April 23, 2010. For us four governors that border Mexico, “we deal with this every day.”


Governor Richardson expressed hope that the new Congress will address the matter of immigration reform, in part because “they (Republicans) will have to be more than the party of no.”


His breakfast talk later gave way to a lunch panel presentation hours later that was, well, relatively heated.


The panel was moderated by Brahm Resnik, an on-air personality for KPIX-TV, a Phoenix station. The panelists included Arizona State Rep. John Kavanagh, a former police officer and one of the sponsors of the new Arizona law.


Also appearing was Matt Thomas, a partner in the firm of Thomas & Jefferies, which practices solely in the field of immigration and nationality law; Mark Spencer, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association; and Dan Pochoda, legal director for the Arizona American Civil Liberties Union.


State Representative Kavanaugh laid-out the case that the events that led to the adoption of the law have been stewing for over a decade, that it was about increased crime, inaction, and abdication of responsibility on the part of the federal government and burdensome costs to state government.


The law was crafted to enforce the existing 1986 federal immigration law, the last significant action on the matter by Congress, Representative Kavanaugh said.


Representative Kavanaugh also said the he supports the “Dream Act” now before the U.S. House of Representatives.” This, the latest initiative to address immigration, is designed “to help those individuals who meet certain requirements, have an opportunity to enlist in the military or go to college and have a path to citizenship which they otherwise would not have without this legislation, according to a website on the legislation.


Panelist Thomas compelling explained the human aspect of the lack of immigration reform.


When pressed for a solution after the panel discussion, he said later in an e-mail: “I would say my position on the law are in line with the Utah Immigration Compact… My main concern is with the families that are impacted by these laws and my primary goal as an immigration attorney is keeping families together.”


Mr. Spencer vehemently denied accusations that the Arizona law codifies racial profiling and insisted that the measure is about crime and public safety.


Mr. Pochoda insisted that the law is racist and described it several times as “stupid.” No question that the legislation is about non-whites moving into the state, said Mr. Pochoda, who also claimed that the law supporters disseminate Nazi literature.


He strenuously disagreed with almost all of Mr. Spenser and Representative Kavanaugh’s statistics; and he dismissed suggestions that crime is down because illegal immigrants are leaving the state as a result of the legislation.


Crime is actually up, said Mr. Pochoda, because law enforcement has been redirected to round-up Hispanics and the law will encourage future wholesale round-ups.


All of which reminded me that the mind-numbing repetition of charges and counter-charges and dueling diametrically differing statistics creates an environment in which one can never know for sure what the truth is, and confusion ensues.


When asked for his perspective, Mr. Resnick emphasized that checking the facts is critical to understanding the issue. “This is one of those issues where you have to live in Arizona to understand… This place is its own example…”


If Congress does not step-in and address immigration reform sooner or later, places throughout the United States will join Arizona as its “own example.”


It was President Abraham Lincoln who said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”


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