Is it possible that after years of ignoring the nation's worsening immigration problems, there may be a crack in the Republican opposition to sensible reform? Could it be that in 2014 the bipartisan compromise that originated in the U.S. Senate might have a chance of adoption in the House?
House Speaker John Boehner reportedly now seems willing to begin the process of coming to some resolution over this most pressing problem. Before those who advocate wholesale reform break out the bubbly, however, Boehner has indicated the process would take some time and not be one of those all at once, sweeping overhauls.
It is uncertain whether this is a backlash to the pressures and interference of outside radical groups mostly under the tea party umbrella, like Heritage Action, an offshoot of the Heritage Foundation, or a genuine belief by traditional conservatives that failure to deal with immigration has further damaged most Americans' faith in Congress as an institution. "Get it fixed!" appears to be the slogan of both sides of the issue. That is if it is even possible to do so.
The Obama administration has deported more than 1 million immigrants over the last three years, including hundreds of thousands whose families have been disrupted, leaving adolescent children in limbo, some of whom are U.S. citizens, according to recent press reports. How many? In fiscal 2012 alone an estimated 150,000 children who are Americans had at least one parent deported. The emotional impact of this alone has been causing some lawmakers to reassess their opposition even to such controversial proposals as providing a long range path to citizenship which is included in the Senate compromise.
Living with the daily fear that one could lose a parent or both can't be an easy way to go through a childhood filled with normal stress and uncertainty. Included in this ugliness is example after example of the breakup of productive families to the detriment not only of the children but of a society badly in need of the skills parents offer.
The impact was best summed up by Wendy Cervantes of the child advocacy group First Focus. Quoted in the Washington Post, she said that "at the end of the day, there is no good outcome for a kid who has a parent detained or deported. No matter what, you are causing harm to that child and turning their world upside down."
Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials contend their deportation and detention efforts are centered on the removal of criminal immigrants, those who have crossed the U.S. border recently, and those who already have been removed at least once. That may be the case but even minor traffic violations often can bring ICE action quickly. Also the utter lack of a current overall, rational policy doesn't make it easier or less expensive for a government that has greatly increased its patrolling of the border.
The predecessor agency Immigration and Naturalization Service, housed in the Justice Department, was notoriously capricious and corrupt. Its activities frequently were scandalous. George W. Bush proposed a far-reaching, long-range policy that was rejected largely because of opposition from his own Republicans angered by the prospect of providing some sort of amnesty for current undocumented citizens. Had even a part of his plan been accepted, experts believe it would have relieved a situation that has just gotten steadily worse.
Boehner clearly has been smarting under accusations that he is merely a puppet for the radical right and especially from what he considers interference in GOP congressional strategy from the likes of Heritage Action. The House speaker has signaled his willingness to at least take up measured consideration of a range of limited changes in immigration law recently by hiring Rebecca Tallent, an immigration adviser to Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who has been a longtime advocate of immigration reform.
Quite obvious in all this is the Republican Party needs to gain support from the nation's growing Hispanic vote both for the coming midterm elections and crucial to GOP chances for recapturing the White House in 2016. Boehner finally seems to have decided it is more important to win than follow the ideological dictates of extremists and the only way of accomplishing that is to recognize the growing importance of Hispanics in the political demographic.
Dan Thomasson is a longtime Washington journalist and former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.