Immigration Reform: How Soon is Now?

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Last week U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it will be auditing 1,000 businesses across the nation looking for immigration violations, 161 of those businesses are in Texas.This is the new, improved Department of Homeland Security response to a crackdown on illegal immigration. Before Obama took office, the Bush Administration favored immigration raids which destroyed families and communities and seemed very well, un-American. How politicians react to this new emphasis on audits over raids says more about our political system than it does about fixing our broken immigration system. Workers and businesses are stuck in the middle of an untenable situation trying to muddle through as the government patches up the sinking boat that is our immigration system. Will it float for one more year? Will we ever have sane immigration policies? Don’t hold your breath.According to a Houston Chronicle story, U.S. Rep Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, is truly disappointed that our government won’t be rounding up workers in workplace raids this holiday season. Nothing says Christmas more than a workplace raid, after all!”It is hard to conceive of a worse time to cut work site enforcement efforts by more than half,”  Smith said in a statement. “There are 16 million Americans out of work. And yet, the administration has chosen to ignore the fact that there are nearly 8 million illegal immigrants.  Those stolen jobs should be returned to out-of-work citizens and legal immigrants.”In response Matt Chandler, a spokesman for Homeland Security, told the Chronicle that just looking at the decline in criminal or administrative work site enforcement arrests — without considering ICE’s new strategy — reflects a “myopic, outdated and distorted view of effective enforcement.”Vermont dairy farmers are also feeling the ICE heat. Vermont’s dairies can’t find laborers locally to do the hard work year round. They can’t bring in guest workers legally because the U.S. government doesn’t allow foreign workers to remain the entire year. Now ICE is knocking on their doors with subpoenas, asking to go through their books.According to the Vermont newspaper Times Argus, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy is none too pleased about it. Leahy issued a rather tepid statement, however, saying he was disappointed in the timing of ICE’s crackdown.”We have a broken system that does not work well for anyone, and especially for dairy farmers and the workers they need to keep their farms running,” he said. “This is all the more evidence that we need workable reform of the agriculture visa system, and it can’t come soon enough.”Leahy told the Argus that he had directed his staff to monitor the situation with the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Nice of him to check in, but it doesn’t really help a dairy farmer struggling to make it through one of the toughest economies in U.S. history. He can’t afford to wait around while Congressional members dither.On either side of the aisle in Congress the message, or lack thereof,  is clear when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform – don’t count on us to do anything about it.

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.