Even a casual observer can see that the Republican Party has tied itself into knots on immigration. In reaction to the president’s action helping DREAM Act eligible immigrants and his move ending some immigration enforcement agreements with Arizona following the Supreme Court ruling, the GOP went apoplectic. Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King threatened to sue the president and Arizona Senator Jon Kyl floated the idea of impeaching the president over his bold immigration actions.
In both cases, these actions would be a colossal waste of time. The president’s announcement of deferred action is significant, but it is the Supreme Court’s SB1070 lawsuit which truly heralds a new era in our immigration debate.
After this decision there is little question that the federal government has supremacy over the enforcement of our immigration laws. If Congressional Republicans are concerned about our immigration system, they should take the counsel of their presidential candidate Mitt Romney who acknowledges that we need a national solution to fix our broken system, not a state based one.
The Republican Party would be smart to acknowledge the progress made in and move forward in a bipartisan manner to continue fixing and modernizing this system. The real problem here is that any time a rank and file member of the GOP talks about immigration, they invariably say one of two things: 1) The Republican Party is the party of legal immigration and 2) that more must be done to stop the invasion of “illegal” immigrants. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions summarizes the GOP immigration platform by saying Congress must “end the lawlessness” of undocumented immigrants in the United States.
As Justice Kennedy highlighted in the opinion of the SB1070 decision, "as a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States." It is absolutely dysfunctional having so many undocumented immigrants in our country without any mechanism to become legal, but it is not any indication of “lawlessness.”
Furthermore, migration from Mexico, the largest undocumented immigrant population coming into the United States is at an all-time low, Mexico’s middle class is growing, and their overall economy is growing faster than Brazil.
All of this underscores a simple truth: the number of undocumented immigrants leaving the country equals the number entering it. Net migration of undocumented immigrants is stagnant; in fact, some analysts think that legal immigration is actually outpacing undocumented immigration. Our southern border is militarized; this information is presented with no judgment but as merely a statement of fact. In the history of our country, there have never been more people patrolling our southern border. Undocumented entries at our borders is at an all time low leaving many of those agents on the border fighting boredom, not some non-existent immigrant menace. All of this should be a clarion call to the Republican Party that in the one area that they have actually worked with Democrats on - enhancing enforcement at the border - there has been notable success.
There are substantial areas with which Congress can work in a bipartisan fashion. More investment in our infrastructure along the Southern Border will foster greater legal immigration into and out of our country. Let’s continue to restore the circular flow of legal immigration. Most immigrants in the country do not enter the country through the border - they actually enter legally and merely over stay their visa. Given how dysfunctional the process of legally immigrating into the United States, many merely overstay their visa as opposed to risking leaving and then not being able to return. These are problems which congress can fix in a bipartisan manner. This is not a wholesale fix by any means but these modest goals can be achieved. Hopefully once the upcoming Congressional recess is over, Republicans and Democrats can start working together on this issue.
Ramos is policy director of the 21st Century Border Program, NDN