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US/ Immigration Reform Risks to Fail, Again

SHARON MOLLERUS describes the present situation of the bipartisan attempts at reforming the immigration laws, as called for by the Catholic bishops and many other religious leaders

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Eleven million undocumented workers in the U.S. live with the daily uncertainty of being apprehended and deported. They entered the country illegally, or they overstayed their visas. They have homes and jobs and families and try to keep under the radar with two-thirds of them here already for more than a decade. The children born to them in the U.S. are automatically granted citizenship. When those with families are discovered, they are faced with the terrible prospect of being separated from their loved ones for years to come.

The "gang of eight", four Democrats and four Republicans, are attempting to craft a new bill to have better enforcement at the borders and to offer a path to citizenship for illegals. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican Cuban-American considered to be a frontrunner in the next presidential election, has taken a particular interest in winning over entrenched Republicans to a new immigration plan. He has worked to persuade not only his party, but also such opinion-makers as conservative talk show radio host Rush Limbaugh. Silicon Valley, with Facebook entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg at the forefront, is pushing for more visas to attract international tech talent. For Republicans watching the demographic trends, the Latino vote cannot be discounted as immigration is expected to overtake new births in population growth by mid-century. Today, fifty thousand Latino Americans turn 18, the voting age, each month.

Previous attempts at immigration reform have largely failed. An amnesty law in 1986 signed by President Reagan did legalize three million immigrants, but did not offer the means to deal with the ongoing flow of illegal immigration. In 1996 and 2000, President Clinton attempted a reform, but a popular backlash stymied any progress. President Bush introduced another overhaul, including a plan for guest workers, but both Republicans and labor unions were opposed. In 2010, President Obama spoke of immigration as a priority, while health care took the front seat.

Now, Obama is trying to move forward with a bipartisan bill, hoping for success after both gun control and the budget fight have ground to a halt. He laid out the criteria for his support of a comprehensive reform bill by asking: "Is it making the border safer? Is it dealing with employers in how they work with the government to make sure that people are not being taken advantage of, or taking advantage of the system? Are we improving our legal immigration system? And are we creating a pathway for citizenship for the 11 million or so who are undocumented in this country.” The public debate is on with an 844-page bill and hundreds of amendments in play.