Immigration reform efforts resurface

With the election season over, people have turned their focus to Congress and the slew of issues that still need to be resolved. These issues include the deficit, foreign affairs, job creation and one that the Catholic Church has focused on recently – immigration policy reform.

The Rev. José H. Gomez, the archbishop of Los Angeles and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, called for comprehensive immigration reform in light of  bipartisan support for the issue expressed during the election season.

“I am heartened by the recent public statements of the leaders of both political parties supporting the consideration of comprehensive immigration reform in the new Congress,” Gomez said in a statement released Nov. 13.

Gomez called for Catholics and “others of good will” to support the issue of immigration reform.

“For decades, the U.S. Catholic bishops have advocated for a just and humane reform of our nation’s immigration system,” he said. “We have witnessed the family separation, exploitation and the loss of life caused by the current system. Millions of persons remain in the shadows, without legal protection and marginalized from society. As a moral matter, this suffering must end.”

Edward Fallone, an associate professor of law at Marquette and a specialist in immigration law and policy, agreed that a comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration policy is a distinct possibility.

“The time may finally be ripe for comprehensive immigration reform because the Latino population has become a big enough voting bloc that both political parties are vying for their support,” Fallone said in an email.

One of the immigration reforms that President Obama and congressional Democrats tried to pass in 2011 was the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act sought to stop deportation and provide a path to citizenship for undocumented individuals brought to the U.S. under the age of 16 with “good moral character,” who served in the U.S. military or went to college.

While Republicans blocked the legislation, Obama has instituted parts of it via executive order, he said. However, a path to citizenship for undocumented individuals can only be made through legislation passed by Congress.

While Republicans and Democrats have different views on creating immigration reform, Fallone thinks comprehensive immigration reform would probably look similar to the immigration reform bill that failed under George W. Bush.

“It (comprehensive immigration reform) would combine some form of amnesty for those unlawfully present provided they entered more than five years ago and have no criminal record, along with measures to beef up border enforcement and streamline measures for verifying the identity of citizens and lawful immigrants, as well as creating new ways for unskilled workers to enter the U.S. lawfully for employment,” Fallone said. “But all three components are necessary, and reform is not likely to be effective if these pieces are enacted piecemeal.”

Passing comprehensive immigration reform depends on whether more pressing and polarizing issues become factors, Richard Friman, a Marquette professor of political science, said.

“The polarization caused by the healthcare debate made it difficult to be bipartisan on other issues,” Friman said.

One of the reasons that comprehensive immigration reform has large congressional support is the level of support from the Latino vote, according to one Huffington Post poll. The Latino community accounts for about 10 percent of voters and is the fastest growing demographic in America.

“There is a lot of danger in looking at the Latino community as a cohesive voting bloc,” Friman said. “There are a lot of differing perspectives in the Latino community.”

The last time comprehensive immigration reform passed Congress was with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Critics of the bill argued against the portion that allowed for “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants.

“Passing a comprehensive reform depends on how much cooperation across the aisle Congress can get,” Friman said.