Upcoming Battles: Immigration Reform Revisited
President Obama is back from Asia on Sunday, November 16, ready to navigate his administration for another political battle– immigration reform. Republicans, soon to be Congressional majority, have strongly opposed immigration reforms through executive actions. Democrats, soon to be Congressional minority, have expected the President to make a difference. In the public discourse, Republicans had for years opposed proposals of immigration reform with components to legalize undocumented immigrants based on potential hike in social welfare expenditure. Democrats, likewise, had blamed Republicans for continual delays. So far, suspension is still in the air.
At this sensitive time, promises of executive action incites strong reactions. For instance, Richard Douthat, expressed in his New York Times column on November 15, 2014, that executive action does not in any way make immigration reform politically consistent (comparing to the President’s earlier remarks) or American (Presidents typically do not act unilaterally on immigration matters).
As early as Feb. 12, 2013, Adam Davidson, a New York Times column writer, alreay observed that immigration reform is difficult because of the type of politics involved. Davidson made a case for pathway to citizenship that most of the undocumented immigrants willingly took lowly jobs of low-skilled jobs, allowed the native workers to focus on better-paying jobs. Therefore, immigration reform with pathway to citizenship is good economics, especially if employers could no longer hire undocumented immigrants for low-skilled positions. Base-line wage would become stable in the long-run. However, as Davidson concedes, the politics of this argument is difficult. The benefits are too diffuse to mobilize the beneficiaries of the immigration reform.
Perhaps what worries voters and legislators is not how the President will enact reforms; it is rather what the President may be fighting for. David Frum on Atlantic Monthly (November 17, 2014) pointed out that if amnesty to undocumented immigrants is granted, the coming bill for social welfare expenditure will rise rapidly. After all, many low-income, undocumented immigrants would become eligible for mean-tested benefits. In addition, the President, as portrayed in mass media, had not addressed in detail how to distinguish the undocumented immigrants with criminal backgrounds in the eligibility criteria. Overall, strong reaction from Republican party may be the result of the aforementioned sentiments of unease and suspicion.
In short, the President may just be forcing Republicans to make concessions. After all, as the Voice of America on November 16, 2014 reported, the President would sign any legislative measure that help fix the current state of affairs for the immigration system.
There could be a bill passed based on compromise, because the price of gridlock is too high. There have always been possible grounds for bipartisan compromises. For instance, the quota for low-skilled immigrants may not deserve much increase, but H-1B quota, especially for professional and highly technical jobs, needs a drastic increase. For the sake of 2016 election, immigration reform will be pivotal for both political appeals and attacks. Price of status quo, finally, may be politically higher than action.