Tides shifting in immigration legislation
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Tides shifting in immigration legislation

March 21, 2011, 11:57 am
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Activity around the immigration issue has quietly taken a turn toward reason
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By Reynold N. Mason JD

Atlanta, March 21, 2011.       Republicans and interest groups pushing a hard line on immigration gave every indication after their sweeping triumph at the polls last November, that it would be tough sledding for illegal immigrants.  But action has, so far, fallen far short of the fiery pre-election rhetoric.  There have been very positive developments on the immigration front since republicans wrested control of congress from the sympathetic democrats last November.  And therein is the irony.   A congress in the hands of democrats, a senate led by the same Harry Reid who promised to, and in fact introduced the DREAM Act in the lame duck session and, a president who was an avowed ally of the downtrodden in the white house, and for two full years with the power to push through comprehensive immigration that he made a plank in his campaign platform, Mr. Obama and congress fritted the opportunity to fundamentally transform immigration law.

The chairman of the Judiciary committee, Steve King is an avowed anti-illegal immigrant, strict enforcement advocate, who supports denying citizenship to children born in to U.S. to illegal immigrants.  He has held hearings and officials of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have been called to the mat.  But the tough punitive measures most anticipated have not materialized. In fact, the outlook for illegal immigrants is at present, out of the red and in the black.  The fiery rhetoric has been toned down, and behind the scenes., moves are afoot to restart the discussion on the comprehensive immigration reform bill put forth last year by Senator Schumer of New York.  Last month, the senator from New York quietly met with senator Lindsay Graham and sent out feelers to Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and other moderate republicans in an effort to breathe new life into the now moribund comprehensive immigration reform bill, that everyone but the most optimistic believed to be dead in the water.

 Perhaps republicans are not the “sore winners” we thought them to be after all. They appear positively magnanimous so far, in their treatment of illegal immigrants. Not a single piece of the anticipated flood of anti-immigrant legislation has passed the 112th congress so far this session.   Whatever the reason, the heated anti-immigrant rhetoric, tough guy rhetoric has given way to reason.  Last week during the senate Judiciary committee hearing, DHS secretary, Janet Napolitano, disclosed that DHS quietly granted deferred action status to over 900 illegals in 2010.  And that number does not include those granted deferred action status for humanitarian reasons.  Deferred action status is what DHS grants when it decides not to deport an illegal immigrant.  Those who are granted deferred  action status get work authorization.  There is no statutory basis for granting deferred action status.  The DHS secretary grants it in her own discretion where she feels it is humanitarian or in the interests of justice to do so.  The best part is deferred action status is not reviewable by the courts.  Once it is granted, the lucky recipient can breathe a sigh of relief, and go about the business of earning a living,  free  from the fear  of deportation. 

All this of this came out during the questioning of the DHS secretary by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.  He has been hot on the trail trying to track down the source of a DHS memo, leaked last February, that suggested granting deferred action status to all 12 million illegal immigrants in the country. No one will own authorship of the memo, but Steve Wonder can see that it was an effort by the spineless Obama administration to grant amnesty, to all illegas by stealth.

Another hopeful  development  has just occurred in the conservative state of Utah, where  an immigration bill has just been enacted, granting amnesty to guest workers. The bill puts in place  an agreement between Utah and a neighboring Mexican state to provide businesses with migrant workers.  Utah representative Bill Wright, the bill’s sponso,r told NPR “It is necessary to keep illegal aliens because they work harder than Utahans….” “We’re spoiled rotten” he told NPR. 

In Washington, and New Mexico the shifting tides in immigration legislation  swept away two proposed anti-immigrant bills. New Mexico voted to continue issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, in spite of opposition from newly elected Hispanic governor, Susanna Martinez, who campaigned on a promise to end the practice, and toughen licensing laws.  Meanwhile, in Washington, a bill to deny driver’s licenses to illegal immigrant died in the senate.  New Mexico, Utah and Washington are now the only states in the country where illegals can get a driver’s license.

Even more telling, is the rejection in Arizona of  anti-immigrant  legislation whose aim is to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.  Russell Pierce, the force behind Arizona’s SB 1070, the notorious  “Papers Please” law that sparked protests and boycotts against the state last year, has been on a crusade aimed  at ridding his state of illegal immigrants.  He is the prime ;mover behind Arizona’s tough stance on immigration. This is a rare defeat for Mr. Pierce.

The activity around  the immigration problem has quietly taken a turn  toward reason. The fire that fueled the harsh rhetoric and calls for strict enforcement,  appear to have burned itself out.  The threatened enactment of sweeping Arizona-style anti immigrant laws to which this author alerted readers in  an article titled  “Tough Times Ahead for Immigration” in this publication just two months ago, has not materialized.  The new shifting tide has imbued those at risk of deportation with renewed hope of one day regularizing their status. 

And the president the United States(POTUS)  seems to have regained his footing. He fumbled badly when he failed to push immigration reform in the last congress despite holding all the levers of power.  In his budget request for fiscal year 2011 POTUS asked for $18 million for the office of citizenship. Some of that money will be used in initiatives that help immigrants resettle  in the U.S.  The new congress, now preoccupied with government spending, appears to have found its humanity and thus far, has acquiesced in the advancement of sensible humanitarian immigration initiatives.  Let’s hope it all ends well.

***** My thanks to the Federation for American Immigration Reform for allowing me access to their legislative updates in preparing this article

Author: Reynold Mason
Reynold N. Mason teaches law courses at Zenover Educational Institute In Atlanta, Georgia. He has been a judge on New York City Civil Court and, a Justice on New York State Supreme Court. Mason has been an adjunct professor of law at Medgar Evers College and Monroe College in New York. He has authored several legal opinions published in New York Miscellaneous Reports and New York Official Reports as well as the New York Law Journal. He lives in Atlanta.
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