Presidential Candidates Favor Immigration Reform

By Attorneys Robert Reeves and Jeremiah Johnson

Just last summer, comprehensive immigration reform was a real possibility. Despite the Congress’s failure to pass comprehensive reform, the immigration debate remains at the top of our nation’s political discourse. The President passionately spoke about immigration in his State of the Union address and the current presidential candidates raise the issue before reporters and voters. But what exactly are they saying?

Both the Republican and the Democratic candidates in the upcoming presidential election can agree on at least one thing: America needs to secure its borders with more fences. However, when the debate turns away from concrete and fence posts and focuses on real people, the candidates begin to distinguish themselves from each other. On the Democratic side, both Senator Hilary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama voted for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, however their approach to comprehensive immigration reform on the campaign trail slightly differs. For example, Senator Clinton supports an agricultural jobs program but opposes a guest worker program that would lower wages of American workers or exploit immigrants. Senator Obama supports a guest worker program where immigrant workers would be less dependent on employers to stay in the country. Senator Clinton opposes providing undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses while Senator Obama supports providing driver’s license to undocumented immigrants.

On the Republican side, the three candidates also differ when it comes to immigration. Governor Mitt Romney has taken an enforcement only approach, whereas Governor Mike Huckabee’s proposals are more nuanced then this hard-line. Specifically, Governor Romney opposes any path to legalization for undocumented immigrants and supports tougher penalties for hiring undocumented immigrants. Governor Romney also proposes to issue biometric identification cards to immigrants and create a verification system if elected President. Furthermore, Governor Romney would cut financing to cities where officials refuse to enforce immigration laws. Governor Huckabee’s plan would give undocumented immigrants at least 120 days to register with the Service then leave the United States voluntarily, after which they could apply to return.

Senator John McCain from Arizona appears to be the only Republican candidate to support comprehensive immigration reform. He was one of the co-sponsors for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, which would have legalized millions of immigrants in the United Stares. Senator McCain’s approach towards legalization for undocumented immigrants includes learning English and paying fines. Senator McCain, along with Senator Obama, is also a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act of 2007, which would allow states to give undocumented immigrants in-state tuition for college and confer legal resident status on immigrant students.

With all this talk on the campaign trail, is now the time for comprehensive immigration reform? No, not right now. President Bush was unable to garner the support needed in Congress to pass a comprehensive bill last year and it is unlikely he will revive the effort before leaving office. However, over the past year, immigrant communities have seen an increase in immigration raids and the news media has continued to focus on immigration. Because all of the presidential candidates are talking about immigration, it is likely that immigration will remain a center topic in America in 2009.