By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Jeremiah Johnson
The polls have closed and the ballots have been counted and one thing is for certain: Senator Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States. Senator Obama campaigned on a platform of change and voters responded with a resounding “yes we can.” Although many Americans may find it difficult to be optimistic during these hard economic times, this past Tuesday’s historic election has provided many, especially immigrants, hope for a better future; hope for a change. Politically, a change in our immigration system may have to take a temporary backseat while the economy recovers, however comprehensive immigration reform remains a reality in the next administration.
While campaigning, Senator Obama made a commitment to “pursue genuine solutions day-in and day-out [including] immigration reform that will secure our borders, and punish employers who exploit immigrant labor; reform that finally brings the 12 million people who are here illegally out of the shadows. Senator Obama’s “genuine solutions” include change within the immigration bureaucracy and an increase in the number of visa available for immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill. As for undocumented aliens already in the United States, Senator Obama supports a system that allows these immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and eventually become citizens. However, as President, Senator Obama will first need to tackle the current economic crisis, including the growing unemployment rate facing America, before a comprehensive immigration reform package becomes politically viable. All the same, every elected official, including Senator Obama, should be accountable for honoring the commitments made on the campaign trail. If Senator Obama honors his commitments, which we believe he will, immigrants and their families can expect change.
But as demonstrated last year, a President can not reform the immigration system alone. Fortunately, Senator Obama will have the added support of Democrats in Congress whose party platform views immigration policy as an opportunity to renew the “American Community.” These Democrats recognize the need to secure the borders, including additional personnel, infrastructure and technology at the borders and ports of entries, and enforce existing immigration laws. They also understand the “need [for] comprehensive immigration reform, not just piecemeal efforts.” While “comprehensive” immigration reform may no longer be their “top” priority amid these hard economic times, nevertheless, Democrats have made the commitment to prioritize immigration reform.
So what can immigrants and their families expect from our elected officials in Washington and more importantly when can we expect it? The Democrat’s plan calls for increasing family-based and employment based immigrant visas; improving the naturalization process; and addressing the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy. Moreover, the Democratic plan “support[s] a system that requires undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, pay taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.” Though the final outcome of any plan is always subject to change, and the timing will depend in large part on the current political climate, it remains reasonable to expect that immigration reform can occur sometime next year after the economy begins to improve.
Over the past year, immigrants and their families have seen hard times – both economically and in the way of increased immigration raids in their communities. Yet in the past, politicians have failed to deliver promised reform. As such, the American electorate embraced change, and they voted for change. If commitments made during this historic election are any indication of times ahead, then immigrants and their families can also expect positive change.