The on-going debate on immigration reform for the United States took a nasty partisan turn this week as the controlling conservative faction dug in its heels on several points. "There will be no path to citizenship," [for illegal immigrants in the U.S.] one Republican Congressman who attended intense backroom meetings reported, under condition of anonymity.
While many actions are being taken, such as an intense sweep for illegal immigrants, tightened application evaluations, and multiple-billion dollar programs to seal the borders of the U.S., it means that no legislative action will proceed. Applications, quotas, and actual laws will remain unchanged, although court precedent and interpretation of existing law is still open to change.
Most Americans favor a reasonable and humane approach toward the estimated 13 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S. Most lawmakers of both houses of Congress also favor a mixture of reforms, including reasonable and respectful treatment of people who have otherwise worked and lived in the U.S. for years, sometimes decades, as law-abiding and tax-paying citizens. President George Bush's official policy position is one of a 'path toward citizenship,' whereby long-term illegal residents should be allowed to continue leading productive lives and have an opportunity to become fully legal.
However, far-right factions that currently control significant positions in the Washington law-making process have far more draconian intentions. A very vocal minority are calling for a "zero-tolerance" policy of deportation of every single illegal alien, regardless of any mitigating circumstances. There have been calls to revoke the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to illegal parents. Implanting an electronic RFID tag in all immigrants has also been seriously proposed.
Conservative factions have banded together against more moderate proposals and blocked legislation; their stated intention is for the remainder of the year or perhaps longer. Immigration reform has become a very contested and visible domestic issue in the United States this year, largely due to broad discontent with the government's foreign policy in combination with it being an election year.
The Speaker of the House, the most powerful position in the House of Representatives, sometimes referred to as the lower of the two houses of Congress, stated that he hasn't "heard a lot of pressure to have a path to citizenship," a somewhat mystifying statement given that President George Bush has been calling for just that for the past two months. House Speaker Dennis Hastert announced a series of hearings throughout the summer and into the fall, saying "I am not putting any timetable on this thing."
This is widely interpreted as deliberately attempting to delay any action until after the November elections. Some analysts also note that the time can be used for these factions to promote their unpopular agenda and perhaps try to turn it into a weapon against their political opponents. Some insiders have divulged that Republican strategy sessions have already been held to find ways to turn the issues into attack methods against Democrats and moderate Republicans in the upcoming election.
The major impact for people attempting to immigrate to the U.S., legally or otherwise, is that it appears there may be no concrete legislative action taken in the near future. Many conflicting interests are trying to position their viewpoints into the debate, making it unusually complex, even for a political knife fight.
In December 2005, the House passed a bill (a proposed law) that made undocumented entry into the U.S. a felony crime, among other harsh measures. Such a conviction would generally bar anyone so convicted from re-entry for life, as well as impacting relatives attempting legal entry. The Senate passed their own bill in May this year, which is generally acknowledged as a much more reasoned and pragmatic approach.
The two Houses of Congress must now negotiate a compromise that they both agree to, which would generally include policy suggestions from the White House. Should they pass such a bill, it would then go to the President for his signature, making it official federal law.
Anyone wishing to predict how U.S. immigration laws will actually be reformed over the next six to eighteen months will have study the issue carefully as all proposals are revealed and debated.
One thing seems assured at this time, the current laws will remain unchanged and in effect for the remainder of 2006.
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