Migration reform on all fronts: Speaking, legislating, and acting for Immigration Reform as the year ends

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Colorlines began November with a mixed review of October’s movement on Immigration Reform, reporting that despite the bipartisan Senate’s “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” being stuck in the House, “Immigration Activists Continue to Fight on All Fronts.” Much was being said about paralysis, but in the streets, the prisons and the corridors of power, people were acting. Coming out of the government shutdown and coinciding with the calamitous unveiling of the Affordable Care Act web site, at times immigration seemed to float off the margins, but its advocates kept pushing it to the center stage again and again. President Obama focused his October 24 press conference on immigration reform, but for many his engagement seems “too little, too late” in the legislative front, and “too much, too often” when it comes to the deportation and incarceration of the undocumented.

Russell Berman’s excellent series for The Hill makes clear that there is much blame to go around for the immigration reform stalemate; both branches of government, and both  political parties could and can be more proactive. As the Senate’s comprehensive bill stalls in the House, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez has been calling for a negotiated piecemeal legislative approach, moving away from the comprehensive grand bargain, and has gained the support of Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama for this approach. Yet even the seemingly non-controversial Kids Act (characterized by many as an Eric Cantor-sponsored DREAM Act) has also hit snags over disagreements regarding a path to citizenship.

As the impasse over the Kids Act shows, certain major obstacles remain in the legislative process, perhaps most pressingly in questions of border security and pathway to citizenship, pillars for Republican and Democratic support for the act. But even here, some flexibility seems to emerge. A widely-circulated New York Times article asked whether citizenship is the goal of all immigrants, testing the possibility of a variety of paths and status as part of an agreement. The same journal has recently reported on an overextended, overpaid border security industry in “Borderline Insanity at the Fence in Nogales”. This reporting complements the work of Border inc. and NIYA about corporate overspending and abuse pushed by the “border security” industry. The limits of this security are also up for debate.

A piecemeal approach might help address some of these specific questions as individual components are carefully examined. Yet, as these polite legislative negotiations continue, the deportations also continue at an unprecedented rate, earning Barack Obama the title of “deporter-in-chief”.

One cannot question every single one of these deportations, like one cannot question every single arrest. Yet one can indeed question the excessive deportations and arrests to satisfy the contractual needs of the border security and prison lobbies. And while #NotOneMore is an important slogan, everyone is aware that some deportations will continue, and that communities do want a certain level of reasonable security. This doesn’t mean that enforcement policies need to remain the same way.

In a recent column Pablo Manriquez questioned “How to Defend Obama on Deportations” at a time when many Congressional Democrats expect him to act by extending DACA and pausing deportations. He rightly points at the importance of the legislative process and asks the Executive to act both in proposing legislation and directing more reasonable ICE enforcement priorities. Crucial for Manriquez is that the Executive introduce legislation for a path to citizenship. One would hope that the President can come up with a reasonable bill. And as the legislative process grinds on, he has other tools at his disposal.

Prudent use of certain executive prerogatives are politically feasible and possible. DACA and later directives aimed at providing “parole in place” to military families, allowing relatives to remain in the US while obtaining immigration documentation, show that this kind of action is possible. The President has been patient with the legislative process, the least he can do is provide some relief to those groups that would qualify under the bipartisan Senate bill.

There are other issues that might be beyond the legislative and executive’s agendas today, and here activists also have open fronts. Mexico has become a horrific middle passage for many Central American migrants, “La bestia” being its most tangible symbol. This facet of the immigration debate cannot escape our sight either. Perhaps just coincidentally, as fasts for Immigration Reform continue in Washington DC the Caravana de Madres de Migrantes Desaparecidos has been following another old political tradition, leading a pilgrimage through Mexico, in search for disappeared migrant relatives.

These Central American pilgrims are not alone in their search for an improved migration system. They count with the support of organizations large and small, with figures ranging from Father Solalinde to Las Patronas. Groups and people who remind us that migration is a regional and global issue requiring constant attention in many fronts. A reasonable presidential reprieve will not solve all problems, but would be a promising signal of Obama leading in finding a real humane solution to the effects of a broken immigration system. At the same time, people will continue to endeavor to find local solutions to global problems.