While the division of party leadership in the two houses of Congress can be thought of as an obstacle toward passing legislation that tilts significantly toward a specific party’s agenda, it conversely presents a new opportunity to pass a bill that will bear the marks of both the Republican and Democrat priorities. The key will be to extract enough leadership and input from both parties to make sure that each party is “invested” in the final product. We must remember that neither party stands to gain from alienating the fastest growing and largest minority segment of the voting citizenry. It is incumbent upon both parties to work together and in good faith to construct a CIR that strikes a neutral chord, tilting neither demonstrably left nor right. History has taught us that we can’t pass the Leaning Tower of CIR.
Therefore, the questions that CIR advocates should be asking themselves are; first, what are the minimum, bottom line reforms that will solve the most pressing and broken aspects of our immigration system? Second, how can we get that bill written, introduced, and ultimately passed?
Each of these issues will be difficult for various reasons. Accepting significantly less than what we want - but ultimately what we need - will be a bitter pill to swallow. Shifting priorities and downgrading expectations are never easy. However, we must choose to have expectations that are grounded in reality. In this case, the most difficult pill to swallow will be the pathway to citizenship. I think that particular aspect of the “old” CIR is probably out of reach. Any new CIR will probably have to settle for an earned and vigorous, long and protracted pathway to some new category of legal “non-immigrant.” Perhaps the failed DREAM Act’s approach to a “temporary non-immigrant” status, requiring regular re-application processes, might be an acceptable middle ground. Remember, CIR opponents will fight this provision, as limited as it is, tooth and nail. However, at the end of the day, since this avenue to bring dignity and above ground status to the undocumented will take any discussion of “chain migration” off the table, the Restrictionist opponents might be enticed to accept this as less than “amnesty.”
This brings me to the second question, of how do we get this done? I think that we must take everything that we associate with the past CIR attempts off the table, so to speak, and start the process fresh with a blank white sheet of paper. We should probably even change the name, even while we change the approach. Forget “Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” per se. Let’s re-think how we label this, and even talk about this new approach. Perhaps we should think of this in terms of national sovereignty, border security, economic stimulus, and especially American values. The integration of these urgent national needs is what we are trying to achieve, so perhaps we should call it something like the Strategic American Migration Initiative - anything but the tainted CIR.
We need to re-build this initiative brick by brick. Each and every aspect from border security, to worksite enforcement, to future flow, to earned legalization should be discussed in a bipartisan way – integrating input from both parties - and only written onto the blank page when consensus has been reached on that issue. Stagnation and obstruction has brought us to this impasse, but perhaps we need to trust in our Founding Fathers enough to follow sound legislative procedure, and to settle our differences constructively. Who’s to say that the Republican’s approach of securing the border first is entirely without merit? Perhaps if members from both parties are willing to write this new legislation through consensus, issue by issue, we will find that we are not all that far apart on what we all ultimately want for our nation. More importantly, and perhaps ironically, through a divided Congress we might actually achieve what our nation needs, but has eluded us for far too long – a workable, sensible, bipartisan immigration policy.
Robert Gittelson is the co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.