Immigration reform possible in lame duck session?

A coalition of faith-based groups and community organizations that support comprehensive immigration reform are calling on Congress to address their concerns in the lame duck session.

“No action is a vote for the way things are,” said Dr. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, on a conference call with reporters this week. “No action is a vote for de facto amnesty. No action is abdication of federal responsibility.”

Joining this call was Sen. Robert Menendez, D. N.J., who is seeking to bring together a bipartisan supermajority in the Senate to pass comprehensive reform. He noted that the lame duck session may be the best opportunity to pass comprehensive reform in the near future.

He called on members of Congress to put aside “political grandstanding” and to come together on an issue that has “generated a lot of talk but little action.”

Unfortunately, many Republicans who either previously voted for reform or are current cosponsors of reform bills have backed away from supporting reform initiatives.

Menendez said that enforcement-only proposals aren’t enough to fix the broken immigration system. Reform must address illegal hiring, but it should also provide the 11 million or so undocumented workers with a means to gain legal status, and “work their way to permanency residency.” He also favors provisions that keep immigrant families together.

Some of the incoming Republican members of Congress seem unlikely to work in a bipartisan way to achieve a comprehensive bill, he added. He told reporters that during the campaign hostile anti-immigrant political discourse caused him to worry that many newly-elected Republicans may favor political grandstanding over common sense solutions. “The reality is that we need a bipartisan effort in this. Unless we get some Republicans to join us, we won’t move forward,” he said.

Hardline anti-reform Republicans who push “enforcement-only” measures will likely stand in the way of reform, Menendez hinted. “I think that that doesn’t deal with the totality of the problem; it will only give us more of what we have.”

“I hope that we can do this in lame duck, but if not, if their are no Republicans who are forthcoming, then I just look at the numbers and the views of those who will be in critical positions and know it will be more difficult,” Menendez said.

He stated that many Republicans are going to have to decide of their best political capital lies in some of the anti-immigrant sentiments expressed by Republican candidates during the campaign or in resolving a serious national issue.

The comments came the same day a coalition of business, religious and community groups in Utah formally rejected efforts to pass Arizona-type anti-immigrant legislation. According to a statement from another coalition, which adopted the so-called Utah Compact, immigration enforcement should remain a federal priority and reform measures should provide a path for undocumented immigrants to be integrated into society. One conservative supporter of the pro-reform “Utah Compact” said, “Arizona-style laws amount to nothing but a ’round them up’ and ‘starve them out’ approach – neither of them are ethical nor consistent with our conservative principles, and in no way will I participate in such policies.”

The pro-reform group includes Utah’s Republican Attorney General

The latter viewpoint likely results from observations of the campaign season and election results, especially in southwestern states. While several Republican candidates used harsh and racist anti-immigrant messages during their campaigns, these did not always resonate with voters. Notably, in neighboring Nevada, Tea Party-backed Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle routinely attacked Latinos and immigrants as part of her campaign. Her decisive defeat and the enthusiastic support Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., received suggest that Republicans may be hesitant to adopt the same tactics in the future.

According to exit polling released this week by America’s Voice, an immigration reform advocacy group, Reid likely won at least nine in ten Latino votes in this election. The data showed that Latino voters played a huge role in preventing far worse election results for congressional Democrats.

Image: Arasmus Photo // CC BY 2.0


Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.