Forecast Cloudy for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

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I’ve noticed a shift in the last week among comprehensive immigration reform advocates from hopeful to downright angry and dejected. The growing sentiment is: don’t expect the Obama Administration to fix our broken immigration system anytime soon. 2010 is a pipe dream, my friends. The coup de grace was President Obama’s 71-minute State of the Union last week which included just seven words on our busted immigration system. It was a lackluster acknowledgement of a festering problem.  “We should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system,” Obama said, “and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation.”No timelines. No promises. With health care reform left dangling in the wind and a populist tea-party brewing this election season, the pols are not inclined to touch this political third-rail anytime soon.This is a shame. Because the debate around illegal immigration continues to grow nasty, if not downright ugly. And it needs to be addressed before things get worse. You have only to look at Arizona to see how truly poisonous the immigration debate can be. Residents there are in a pitched battle — either for or against — Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s campaign of fear complete with checkpoints and immigrant round ups. An Arizona senate committee approved a bill recently that would make these Arpaio-type tactics kosher in the rest of the state. The legislation would make residency checks mandatory, and it would allow any person to sue an official or agency that provides sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant.  Meanwhile, temporary detention centers have become jails. Immigrants awaiting deportation or simply to have their immigration cases heard in court are detained for months or even years while they wait for their immigration cases to be resolved. Immigrant detainees abandoned in far flung detention centers without legal representation are resorting to hunger strikes just to get their day in court.

A NPR report Tuesday said that 380,000 immigrants are being held across the nation in these detention centers, i.e. jails.  Homeland Security has already identified 100,000 immigrants that could be released from these jails and could be monitored with ankle bracelets or through other methods. The catch is they need Congress to pass a bill to authorize them to do it.

Republicans and some conservative Democrats continue to shout for more detention centers, higher walls and no amnesty. How do they envision sending the estimated 12 million people back to their native countries? Many of these folks have been here for generations and have deep ties in their communities and children who are U.S. citizens.Immigration reform advocates thought they could count on the Democratic Party. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer from New York who has taken the lead in drafting immigration legislation in the Senate is casting about for any Republican backing he can find. Like Obama, he’s not setting any deadlines either. Schumer recently met with Lou Dobbs, which signals that comprehensive reform may be decidely less comprehensive than we would hope. In the meantime, with the sour mood in the country over the economy and the mind-numbing deficit people are casting about for a convenient scapegoat. Undocumented immigrants are blamed for everything from the collapse of our healtcare system to the shortage of affordable daycare (I actually saw this in a comment yesterday).

It’s time for Democrats and Republicans to put aside the campaign talking points and find some common ground on this difficult issue.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.