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Passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Getting Down To Brass Tacks

by Robert Gittelson

As we begin to circle the wagons of CIR advocacy this spring, it seems that "hope is in the air." The stars seem to have aligned, and if the most recent polling data is to be believed at all, it seems that perhaps, if all goes well, and we all cross our fingers, knock on wood, and don't beak any mirrors, we could see CIR legislation in the fall of this year. And yet..why do I feel the need to hedge my bets?

I've been mulling this over in my mind, and trying to gauge the political wind. Where are the pitfalls, and how to we circumvent them? Where are the booby traps, and how to we diffuse them before they cause harm to the cause? I know, I know, all good questions. In short, or at least as short as I can make it, I see it all boiling down to one group, and it isn't the far right wing Restrictionists. The hard right Restrictionists have never been in play; they are the side show, the nuisances, the hecklers, the distraction. No, the all important swing votes are to be found in the Democratic Party, and they have a funny yet catchy name; the Senate Blue Dogs, although they have the self-titled unofficial name of the Practicality Caucus.

Why the Senate Blue Dogs, you say? Well, here's the way I see it. As things stand now, Dick Durbin, the senior Democrat Senator from Illinois, believes that he now has something on the order of 57 probable votes for CIR, of the needed 60 to overcome the obvious Republican filibuster. So, if one considers that there are a handful of Republicans already likely to be on board, including Lindsey Graham, John Kyl, John Cornyn, Richard Lugar, and in all likelihood John McCain, then why don't we already have more than 60 votes, if we already have at least 59 Democrats in the Senate? Because of the poor, befuddled, moderately conservative Senate Blue Dog Democrat Coalition, who seem to have lost their way on the issue of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

These Democrats are primarily from conservative districts, and some seem to have a misguided presumption that their constituents tend to side with the anti-CIR Restrictionists on this issue, simply because they are conservatives. Perhaps they are correct, or perhaps and more likely, they didn't get the memo, as 20 out of 22 anti-CIR congressman and women lost their elections by supporting the overwhelmingly minority Restrictionist viewpoint. They may have unfortunately been listening to Mark Kirkorian, of the anti-immigrant and dubiously named group The Center for Immigration Studies, (CIS). He has been propagating a theory in the conservative National Review, (in his attack on fellow NRO author Richard Nadler, who had the audacity to speak the truth about immigration reform), that compares and conflates the rejection of mass deportations to the advocacy of gay marriage, slaughtering the unborn, affirmative action, and the Obama stimulus package. He does this in an effort to paint anyone who doesn't share his ultra restrictionist anti-immigrant philosophy as a radical leftist. He has even suggested that those who do not share his anti-immigrant brand of conservatism as wanting to abandon the bedrock conservative principals of peace-through-strength and limited government. Perhaps a few of these Blue Dogs don't understand that the issue of reforming our immigration laws can more logically be coupled with the conservative principals of increased border security and compassionate conservatism, and is separate and differentiated from the other social and economic issues Krikorian mentions. I might also mention that Krikorian has been able to suppress neither his joy, nor his snarkiness, as he exclaimed victory through osmosis when he announced, "I predicted three weeks ago that Sotomayor was guaranteed to get the nod - as a consolation prize for Hispanic pressure groups, since there isn't going to be an amnesty."

So, who are these theoretical obstructionists, the Senate Blue Dogs? They are a group led by Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and include moderate Democrats like Senators Mark Pryor (Ark.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Jim Webb (Va.), Tom Carper (Del.), Kent Conrad (N.D.)and Mark Warner, (D-Va.), to name a few of the dozen or so in the loosely formed coalition. Bayh joked that the coalition has 12-13 official members, and 2-3 that are in the witness protection program.

While one would think that if your party's leader, in this case President Obama, were consistently polling in the high 60 percent range in approval ratings, one would do well to stick by his side. One would think. At least this way, they wouldn't need to hide. I'm reminded of a famous quote from President Lincoln from 1862, "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise-with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." This quote is prophetic and prescient, as it relates to the evolving issue of CIR, whose time has come. In other words, these Senate Blue Dogs must "get with the program," and "get on the bus, before it passes them by."

It is time, once and for all, to disenthrall ourselves of the notion that the status quo is acceptable. We must also disenthrall ourselves of the outdated notion that the "Enforcement Only" approach has any merit, whatsoever. The people went to the polls in record numbers and elected "change." They didn't vote for, and don't want obstructionists and old ideas. They voted for people with new ideas, and the notion to see those ideas through to fruition. These Blue Dogs just won't hunt.

In past articles, I've given extensive "laundry lists" of practical, fiscally conservative, pro-military, pro-enforcement, family value and compassionate reasons why conservatives can get behind CIR. Let us not forget that it was a conservative President, Ronald Reagan, that signed the last CIR bill, although we now can learn from the mistakes inherent in that antiquated legislation, and thus improve upon it's shortcomings. In fact, we can further look to Reagan for added political cover for conservatives, in the wake of a changing mindset on the benefits of CIR in today's changed set of circumstances. History recalls that Reagan was against unilateral meetings with the Russians on talks to limit or eliminate intermediate ballistic missiles. However, after Gorbachev came into power, Reagan began to suspect that he could work with Gorbachev, and because of this change of heart, Reagan was able to change his mind, and come to an agreement with the Russians that became known as the INF Treaty of 1987. Perhaps the conservative Senators can look to our change in leadership, and see that President Obama intends to work with conservatives to craft an even-handed CIR bill that secures our border, even as it shows compassion and common sense in it's approach to an earned legalization pathway for our nation's undocumented residents. Certainly if a conservative President Reagan could change his mind and trust the Russians on nuclear weapons reform, our conservative Senators can disenthrall themselves of their Restrictionists views, change their minds, and trust their own President on Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

In point of fact, most of the Blue Dog Senators have shown themselves to be in favor of CIR through their past voting records. Only a few of these Senators, such as Nelson and Webb, have voted against CIR in the past. Perhaps it is Durbin who is being conservative, when he says he only has 57 votes at this time. Remember, these Senators don't actually have to vote for CIR to make CIR happen. We need 60 votes for Cloture, which means that the Senate can THEN vote up or down on the CIR legislation. However, without 60 votes for Cloture, the full Senate will not even get a chance to vote on the actual CIR bill. It seems to me that the least that the full Democratic Caucus can do, (which includes the 57 Democrats, 2 Independents, and probably the Democrat-in-limbo, Al Frankin, for a total of 60 votes), would be to at minimum vote for Cloture of the measure, (if for no other reason than to show support for the President), and then allow a full up or down vote on CIR. After all, with these 60 votes, plus a handful of 5 or more Republicans voting for Cloture, we can finally get a fair chance to vote on a complete CIR bill, which will then only need 50 votes, plus a tie-breaker vote by VP Joe Biden to get this urgent legislation passed in the best and "practical" interests of the United States.

I might also add that if the Republicans were indeed smart, (all present indications not withstanding), and at all politically astute, they would do well to immediately start to cozy up to the Latino community in the following two ways. First, they should realize that the Sotomayor Supreme Court confirmation is a done deal, and should therefore praise her and vote for her, instead of further antagonizing the Latino vote by appearing mean spirited and whiny by attacking her. There is nothing to gain by doing that, except rally their ever-shrinking conservative base, to the detriment of gaining inroads to a potential and much needed new breed of Republicans. Second, they should immediately change their tack on CIR. The Republicans would do well to disenthrall themselves of being the party of no, and the party of obstruction, when they can, (in the absence of a clear indication that the Democrats, and specifically President Obama plan to imminently propose new CIR legislation), upstage the Democrats, and propose their own CIR legislation and beat the Democrats to the punch. It wouldn't be unprecedented, since their current standard bearer, John McCain, crafted the last CIR bill in 2007. After all, it is all but certain that the Democrats will eventually propose CIR legislation, most likely in the fall, or next spring. Why should the Republicans allow the Democrats to own this issue, and therefore the Latino vote? Especially when an opportunity exists to steal this issue out from under their opponents noses. There is no mathematical formula for victory going forward that does not include the Latino vote. If the Republicans do not immediately reverse the trend that sees their share of the Latino vote spiraling down the toilet, they are doomed to be the minority party for years, or perhaps decades to come.

In closing, I would like to paraphrase the aforementioned words of Lincoln, and bring them into the context of our immigration debate. The Restrictionist dogmas of our own unfortunate past are inadequate to our own stormy and broken immigration system's present. As our ideas about repairing our immigration system through modern technology and modern ideals is new, we must think about our laws and policies anew, and act upon them anew. We must disenthrall ourselves of the antiquated notion that pragmatically changing our laws for the better somehow violates the rule of law, and then we shall save the integrity, cohesiveness, and economy of our nation.

About The Author

Robert Gittelson has been a garment manufacturer in the Los Angeles area for over twenty-five years. His wife, Patricia Gittelson, is an immigration attorney with offices in Van Nuys and Oxnard, California. Robert also works closely with Patricia on the administrative side of her immigration practice. Throughout his career, Mr. Gittelson has developed practical, first-hand experience in dealing with the immigration issues that are challenging our country today.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.