Election-year politics: Why immigration reform will have to wait
Despite the public's cry for reforms, election-year politics will keep politicians from plain talk and solutions.
In an election year, the prospects of straight talk by the presidential candidates on immigration reform are slim. The issue is too complex and highly contentious.Skip to next paragraph
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The public would like to see the problem of illegal immigrants tackled by Washington. But most Americans oppose shortcuts to citizenship for the 12 million or more "undocumented" immigrants. Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton are competing for the Hispanic vote. They aren't talking tough about deporting illegal workers and their families, most of whom are Hispanic. After all, friends and family of illegal Latinos often have the vote.
On the Republican side, the candidates tend to talk sternly about repatriating illegal immigrants. Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona has the awkward history of having cosponsored a bill with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts last year that would have given illegal aliens a route, involving penalties, fines, and fees, to legal status and citizenship.
Anyone saying that proposal is amnesty is a "liar," Senator McCain has said. But every program in the world that has allowed illegal immigrants to stay has been called an "amnesty," notes Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. He proposes shrinking the number of illegal immigrants gradually through enforcement of the laws.
"To get the nomination, McCain has thrown straight talk off the bus," charges Mr. Krikorian.
Another immigration expert, Joseph Chamie, research director at the Center for Migration Studies in New York, argues contrariwise that legalization is the "only viable long-term option" for dealing with illegal immigrants.
Mr. Chamie longs for "an honest dialogue" by politicians with the public on immigration. That, he says, is unlikely before the election next fall.
"Yes, legalization is an amnesty, in effect," he says. "Yes, it is a reward to those who entered the United States illegally. Yes, illegal immigration does – for some people – depress wages. Yes, it is a matter of national security."
So far, though, "lawmakers are saying one thing and doing another," Chamie says. "I can understand why people are frustrated, angry."