Immigration reform promises to be the hot topic in the coming weeks as it has moved up the list of policy priorities, thanks in part to a new Arizona law.
On Saturday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law SB1070, which requires Arizona police to question anyone “reasonably suspected” of being undocumented. Under existing law, they could only require information on someone’s status if the person is suspected of a crime. Legal immigrants are required to have their immigration paperwork handy. The law is the most restrictive state immigration law in the nation and has generated a great deal of attention, especially for its potential to encourage racial profiling.
On Friday, President Obama criticized the bill and has ordered the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to monitor developments to assure that civil rights are not being violated.
On the Hill, the leading players on immigration reform have been Senators Schumer and Graham, who have been working on a bipartisan piece of legislation that addresses the three prongs of immigration: 1) Enforcement, 2) Future Flow, and 3) Pathway to Citizenship. In late March, the Senators announced a framework for their bill, which was endorsed by President Obama. They have been working on gaining additional support, especially from Republicans, when the Arizona law came along.
As the Arizona legislation was considering SB1070, Senators McCain and Kyl released a Ten Point Border Security Action Plan that included the deployment of 3,000 National Guard troops along the border, along with 3,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and lots and lots of miles of fence. Both are advocating a border security first approach to addressing immigration issues. Ironically, both Senators were supportive of past efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform but are now asserting that the federal government is not doing enough to secure the border.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated last week to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that immigration might be next on the agenda for the Senate, ahead of climate change which many thought was next in the queue. His remarks follow similar comments he made in Arizona that he was committed to immigration reform. Senator Schumer is expected to reach out to a number of Republican Senators, including those President Obama called last week – Senators Brown, Murkowski, LeMieux, Lugar, and Gregg – in order to get a deal that can move forward.
Complicating things is that Senator Graham is also the leading Republican on the bipartisan climate change legislation. The unveiling of that bill, which was supposed to be released by Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham today, has temporarily been canceled. While Senator Graham has not walked away from discussions with Senator Schumer, he did send out a letter to many involved in the climate bill process, stating that his participation in climate discussions was being adversely affected by Senator Reid’s decision to move immigration next.
In the House, Speaker Pelosi has indicated that the House will move immigration legislation — if the Senate passes something first.
A lot of activity with lots more expected. There is little question that immigration reform is much needed — the question for policymakers is how to do it successfully so as not to replicate the failures of the 2007 attempt to address the issue.