Election May Have Long-Range Impact on Immigration Reform

Posted on Thu, Nov 04, 2010 at 12:05 pm

(New York, NY) – As the result of Tuesday’s elections, it is not anticipated that Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) will be a priority for the next Congress, according to a panel of experts at HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, who convened yesterday for an Insider Briefing for its constituents. Though immigration was not the decisive issue in Tuesday’s national election, where the economy was foremost on voters’ minds, it played a major role especially in certain races. The results will have long-ranging impact for immigration advocacy and change the way advocates press for new legislation.

According to Gideon Aronoff, President & CEO of HIAS, “We have reason to believe that it is possible to pass certain aspects of immigration reform, like the DREAM Act. For the next Congress, we and our immigration partners within the faith community will look for incremental, building-block solutions as we build toward CIR.

“As Jews, we push for positive solutions even in the face of difficult circumstances. We must focus on the positive value of ‘welcoming the stranger.

“There is hope that with the re-election of Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) the passage of the DREAM Act might even be possible before the end of the current Congressional session.”

According to Melanie Nezer, Senior Director, US Programs & Advocacy: “Sen. Reid has indicated the DREAM Act is a strong priority and this seems to have served him well in his re-election, where 90 percent of the Latinos voting in Nevada voted for him.

“The DREAM Act is an important step towards immigration reform because it would award permanent residency to immigrants who came here as children with their parents, and who want to go to college or join the military. Our hope is that it has a chance in the Senate this year. And, if it passes in the Senate, it will pass in the House.”

With the Republican takeover in the House of Representatives, key committee positions will change: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) will head the House Judiciary Committee and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) will lead the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, and Border Security. According to Mark Hetfield, HIAS Senior Vice President for Policy & Programs, both Congressmen are anti-immigrant at their political core and are strong advocates of immigration policies that stress enforcement over reform.

“We need to stop the undocumented immigration at our borders, but we also need to hold employers accountable for hiring undocumented workers. As we have seen, detention and deportation are not the answer and are certainly no substitute for CIR,” Hetfield said.

As far as refugee policy is concerned, the panel felt the election results were not as negative for refugees as for immigrants. According to Nezer, “Congress does not treat refugee law the same as immigration law. Refugee legislation has traditionally been a bi-partisan issue. Americans are sympathetic to those who have fled persecution, and whose ability to enter the U.S. is a question of life and death.”

The panel noted that the outcome in gubernatorial races, which normally would not have significant impact on national policy, is particularly important since inaction by the federal government on immigration has led many states to consider immigration enforcement legislation modeled on the Arizona law. According to Nezer, "A number of gubernatorial candidates followed Arizona Gov. Brewer’s lead – who won handily yesterday – and ran on similar platforms. The gubernatorial candidates in Georgia , Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Nebraska all employed this strategy and were successful in their bid for election.“

The group’s conclusion, stated by Aronoff: “As President Obama remarked today, no one party can dictate where we go from here. Immigration has always demanded a bi-partisan fix. It has to happen; it’s just a question of when. We at HIAS will redouble our efforts to make it happen.”