Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her running mate, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), are making a bold promise: they’ll introduce comprehensive immigration reform in their first 100 days in office.
This is a tall order on any given year, but especially one after a highly contentious presidential election. Adding to the difficulties of delivering on this promise includes the strong possibility of needing to work with a divided Congress, barring a Democratic Party sweep in November. (Requests for comment for the story from the Clinton campaign went unanswered.)
Still, immigration reform supporters say it’s possible, but the window is small. And perhaps more importantly, Clinton would need to compromise on a number of key sticking points, including what to do with the approximately 11-12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The question will loom large especially in the U.S. House of Representatives, which would likely remain in Republican control.
To be sure, there is growing support for an immigration bill among Republicans. After years of inaction at the federal level, there is a growing list of states taking immigration matters into their own hands creating political land mines in their wake. As a result, some Republicans are eager to take part in an immigration overhaul — but perhaps not at the scope Democrats are proposing.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) is one of the leading House Republicans who has consistently advocated immigration reform. Diaz-Balart represents a large minority community in his South Florida district and is himself the son of Cuban refugees that fled the communist regime shortly after that country’s revolution.
Diaz-Balart is exactly the type of Republican that Clinton would need if she hopes to deliver on her reform promises. Unfortunately, Diaz-Balart is skeptical that Clinton is the right person to usher through Congress a bill fraught with peril at every turn.
“Clinton talks a good game, but she has been absent at crucial times and shown little interest in the hard work of immigration policy,” Diaz-Balart told Opportunity Lives.
The Florida lawmaker is also concerned that Clinton may be following President Obama’s lead on immigration policy promising cooperation with Republicans only to “kill it” when it did not comport to the precise specifications championed by immigration advocates.
Despite this, Diaz-Balart remains committed to immigration reform and stands ready to work with anyone interested while acknowledging that the window to act is “likely in the first year.” Anything after that gets complicated according to the Republican lawmaker.
Among the most difficult questions facing an immigration overhaul includes what to do with the millions of undocumented workers. For some, a pathway to citizenship is a must and non-negotiable. And although a plurality of voters are supportive of legalizing the undocumented, Republicans, including Diaz-Balart are unconvinced that Congress must chart a “special” path — or fast tracking naturalization proceedings for the undocumented that immigrated to this country illegally over immigrants that arrived to this country legally.
Alfonso Aguilar, president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, an advocacy organization connecting Latinos to the conservative movement, is also dismissive of a “special pathway” for the undocumented, including “dreamers,” or students that were brought to this country illegally by their parents as minors.
“They should have a path to citizenship, but they should have to wait in line and wait until an immigration visa becomes available,” Aguilar said.
This approach differs from Clinton’s, Aguilar said. “When Clinton calls for a path to citizenship, it means cutting in line.”
If Democrats demonstrate greater flexibility on this issue, a compromise is possible. And for Republicans like Diaz-Balart, it’s possible to accomplish this while adhering to conservative principles grounded in the rule of law.
“There are ways to get right with the law that is responsible, humane and permanent,” the Republican congressman said.
But that may not be enough to win over some Republicans including those in the House Judiciary Committee that will have jurisdiction over any immigration legislation under consideration.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, toldOpportunity Lives that the prospects of the House approving mass amnesty is “about as likely as a Democrat administration enforcing the law and deporting criminal aliens.”
For Smith, the cost of legalizing the undocumented is a major concern. Clinton’s policies, he said, “would further increase the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country. Illegal immigrants disproportionately take local, state and federal benefits paid for by the taxpayer.”
Smith is not alone in this thinking. Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, has made immigration a centerpiece of his campaign and has specifically called for the elimination of welfare benefits for undocumented immigrants. A charge that is challenged by immigration advocates arguing that immigrants contribute much more to the economythan they draw from the government.
And as the public has becoming increasingly supportive of immigration and immigrant labor, it’s possible anti-immigration voices will find less support for their hardline positions than in years past.
For example, a recent Pew Research poll found that a majority of Americans agreed with the statement that immigrants “strengthen country through hard work and talents.” And perhaps most surprisingly, 72 percent of respondents agreed “undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements should have a way to stay legally.”
If Clinton can capitalize on this support from the general public, she would succeed where others have failed, including Presidents Bush and Obama.
That’s the big question according to Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, an organization of small business owners supportive of an immigration overhaul.
“Does Clinton have a different temperament and make a different choice when it comes to working with Congress?” For Jacoby, Clinton would need to avoid what Obama did and learn from his mistakes.
Jacoby also questioned the timing of trying to deal with immigration reform right out the gate. While certainly not a given in today’s political environment, Jacoby thinks tackling infrastructure and tax reform may create the “trust” necessary between both parties before moving on to the emotional issue of immigration.
If Clinton takes on immigration first, Jacoby thinks a better approach than what has been tried and failed previously is working quietly with Republicans in the House to identify areas of mutual agreement, rather than delegating the bill drafting responsibility to a progressive firebrand like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) thus alienating Republican and conservative support.
Jacoby is convinced that Republicans want to get the immigration reform issue behind them and “a shrewd Democratic president could have some options to get this done.”
Gustavo Portelo, the president of the College Republicans, does not agree. “Let’s not forget that she’s called Republicans her enemy,” he said. And if Clinton does fall short, “that would be three straight elections where Democrats pander and don’t deliver.”
Cross-posted from Opportunity Lives.
Israel Ortega is originally from Mexico City, but has been living in the United States, including New York City, Washington, D.C. and Nashville. Israel is a father of three and is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives