Fight for Immigration Reform Must Continue

The midterm elections drastically changed the composition of Congress with the Republicans seizing control of the House of Representatives. Whether the shakeup will result in gridlock or compromise remains to be seen. What is certain is the effect that this power shift will have on the future of immigration policy in this country.

First, the bad news.  Representative Lamar Smith of Texas is in line to become chair the House Judiciary Committee. A known immigration hardliner, Rep. Smith is expected to promote Arizona-type immigration laws nationwide, among other items in his restrictionist agenda.

The House Immigration Subcommittee will be chaired by another known anti-immigrant, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who has announced that he will propose a birthright citizenship bill, legislation in support of Arizona-type immigration laws, and a bill denying federal income tax deductions for wages and benefits paid to undocumented workers.

Now for some good news. The Democrats still hold majority in the Senate. Pro-immigrant Harry Reid triumphed over the anti-incumbent wave and won a fifth term. Even if he steps aside as Majority Leader, Sen. Reid will be most likely replaced by either Senator Schumer of New York or Sen. Durbin of Illinois – both allies on the broad immigration front.

Moreover, the Democratic casualties in both houses are not as bad as they seem: many of those who were ousted from the House were “Blue Dogs” or conservative Democrats who were less likely to support a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill.

When Congress reconvenes for its “lame duck” session to take care of unfinished business, we can still expect to see some efforts at pushing for immigration action. Senator Reid, for instance, has stated that he will reintroduce the DREAM Act and try to get some outgoing Senators who had voted against it to change their mind.

Everyone will feel the palpable effect of a closely divided Congress come January 2011. As a CNN article put it, where one party has a supermajority, there is little or no incentive to compromise. In this new Congress, compromise is key.

Immigration reform will help the economy by raising wages, creating jobs, increasing consumption and generating more tax revenue. Filipinos could benefit greatly from the provisions of the last CIR bill introduced in the House, and these are issues that we should continue to fight for.

For instance, under the bill unused family and employment visas would be recaptured, resulting in hundreds of thousands of visas being added to the visa pool. In such an event, some preference categories will probably become current while the others will have a considerable reduction in their visa number wait.

Another provision in the bill seeks to upgrade spouses and children of lawful permanent residents, presently classified under second preference category, to the immediate relative classification, thus exempting them from the annual cap. The bill also provides for the increase in the percentage limit of visas issued for each country from the current seven percent (7%) of the worldwide total. In addition, the bill gives an exemption to the children of Filipino World War II veterans from the annual visa cap – a fitting recognition of the contribution of the veterans by accelerating reunification with their families.

Nurses and physical therapists would also be exempted from numerical limitations which will result in their ability to immigrate immediately. Currently, these professionals are classified under the third preference category, where the wait time for a visa number is over five years.

There are groups that continue to advocate for immigration reform on behalf of the Filipino community. One is NAFFAA (National Federation of Filipino American Associations) which monitors legislation and public policy issues affecting Filipinos in the United States. Another is the Fil-Am Reform Immigration for America Task Force which is part of a coalition of more than 700 groups and 60,000 people behind the CIR proposal.

We must continue advancing immigration reform and not lose sight of our goals. Clearly, the battle is not lost. Despite the setback caused by the Republican takeover, immigration reform may still be achieved.