After an immigration bill flatlined in 2007 under President George W. Bush, it took six years for another to make headway in Congress.
Passed by the Senate in summer 2013, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act never formally met its demise. It just never came to a vote in the Republican-controlled House.
How long before we see another attempt at comprehensive immigration reform by Congress?
How about 2022?
That’s the best-case scenario a University of California-Irvine professor sees as long as Republicans remain staunchly opposed to reform.
Viewed in that context, President Obama’s executive action in November carries even greater weight for the reform movement. But the action, which would give about 5 million undocumented immigrants temporary lawful protections to live and work in the U.S., is unprecedented in scope and tied up in court.
A federal judge in Texas temporarily halted programs before their rollout began in February, and he reaffirmed his position Tuesday by rejecting a Department of Justice request to lift his preliminary injunction.
A federal appeals court in New Orleans will hear arguments in the case April 17.
At stake is relief for millions of undocumented immigrants who are parents to Americans and childhood arrivals who qualify for an expanded deferred action program known as DACA.
The legal entanglements for the Obama administration underscore the pressing need for comprehensive reform that can be passed only by Congress. Waiting until 2022 seems like a lifetime.
Louis DeSipio, a professor of political science and Latino/Chicano studies at UC-Irvine, breaks down the possibility for reform along political lines to come up with the early 2020s as a realistic target for an overhaul.
Roots for change rest with state legislatures, many of which handle redistricting after a Census. By late 2020, a Census year in which a presidential election will be held, the Democrats could see majorities in state legislatures and that could favor Democrats in redistricting that follows.
“It gives Democrats a shot at winning back the House,” DeSipio said.
But such a wait could add to the emotional toll, bitterness, and financial distress for childhood arrivals who know only the U.S. as home as well as for Americans raised without a deported parent.
“They know their parents went through this agonizing exclusion,” DeSipio said. “That in-between status is dangerous for our Democratic values.”
His words brought to mind a rhetorical question an activist priest raised to me a few years ago.
Why do we want to raise angry children, he asked.
“I couldn’t agree more,” DeSipio said. “You have people who are told they contribute to U.S. society. They do all the things we expect, but they’re excluded from our Democratic voice. The reason we have a democracy is so [people] don’t look for [other] ways of trying to influence Congress.”
I don’t see it happening anytime soon, especially if Obama’s recent action holds up in court. I think of the so-called Dreamers, teens and 20-somethings who were brought here illegally as children, and young Americans with undocumented parents that I have interviewed. Collectively, their forceful voice is at the heart of reform movement.
“They have not let limits on their parents be a barrier to them,” DeSipio said.
They still have hope.