June 2, 2006
Yesterday I wrote about what appears to be a growing movement of immigration advocates who are withdrawing support of S.2611, the Hagel-Martinez Immigration Compromise bill. This movement points to serious problems in the Senate bill and argues that the status quo and the hope of better legislation in the future is the preferred alternative to passage of S.2611. I suggest that this line of thinking is flawed and could have drastic implications not only for positive reform but also for maintaining the status quo. It is important to remember that the current immigration debate did not start with S.2611 but with H.R.4437, an enforcement-only bill with draconian provisions. H.R.4437 was passed by the House in December 2005, meaning only two steps remained from it becoming law: Senate approval and the President’s signature. It is against this background that S.2611 needs to be judged–not the status quo. Immigrant marchers and immigration advocates rallied around S.2611 not only to bring positive immigration change, but also as a means to defeat the horrendous provisions of H.R.4437. Simply put, passage of S.2611 is a tremendous barrier keeping H.R.4437 from becoming the law of the land. We cannot forget that S.2611 was no easy victory and that many Senators took political risks to support the legislation. Neither can we forget that there is broad consensus in Congress on immigration enforcement while a fragile consensus on immigration legalization. It is very possible that Senate negotiators, in the face of dwindling support from immigration advocates, could relinquish their position on immigration legalization and agree to an enforcement-only approach. Confronted with this possibility, advocates for the status quo are better served to continue adamant support of S.2611 with its legalization provisions that House leaders have loudly and repeatedly rejected. S.2611 is the strongest barrier to H.R.4437 that immigration advocates have. The immigrant community succeeded in erecting a formidable defense to the H.R.4437 nightmare in the form of S.2611. We should not abandon our strongest defense at the very moment it is most needed.