Immigration reform still has a shot this year

Dan Garza, son of Mexican migrant workers, heads the Libre Initiative.
Dan Garza, son of Mexican migrant workers, heads the Libre Initiative.

When the president does it, that means it is not illegal,” said Richard Nixon to David Frost in a celebrated post-impeachment interview that the former president thought would clear his name.

What it did make clear, among other things, is that Nixon garnished presidential powers with imperial rights as if the constitution applied to every other branch of government except the executive.

He was wrong. So is President Obama, who was recently described by Washington Post columnist George Will as a president going rogue.

In the latest example, Obama ignored a law he signed requiring that Congress be notified 30 days in advance of the release of any prisoner detained in Guantánamo. By secretly releasing five Taliban terrorists — two who are recognized as international war criminals for crimes against humanity — in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, this administration broke the law.

It would be easy for Congress, particularly Republicans, to delve into the negative to score political points against the Obama administration at the expense of important legislation that is yet to be fully addressed. That would be bad for all. If Republicans want to show statesmanship, they should behave as such, working on legislation that leads the country to a better place. One such example of this is immigration reform.

Despite the fact that nearly all agree that our current immigration system is broken, many Republicans have been reluctant to own this problem and provide a smart solution. No more. In a fascinating forum on immigration reform at Miami Dade College organized by, an advocacy group tasked to engage the technology community to support bipartisan policies, notable Republicans spoke in support of legislation that fixes what is broken.

Jorge Plasencia, chairman of the board of the National Council of La Raza, Dan Garza, director of the Libre Initiative, and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen joined president Joe Green to support immigration reform as a smart economic policy. The consensus on the panel is that immigration reform is a conservative policy that promotes growth, targeting well-educated immigrants and allowing foreign university students to remain in the United States after graduation.

“Our current system of immigration does not serve our economic needs or our values as a nation,” said Green who recalled the importance of attracting skilled immigrants who are willing to work hard, take risks and transform our economy from manufacturing to knowledge-based.

It is that quick transformation from immigrant to successful entrepreneur and citizen that makes our country unique. Few countries are able to absorb hard-working immigrants in the same way.

Garza is an example. Born into a family of Mexican migrant workers in California, Dan worked the fields himself until he left to attend college. Today he is director of the Libre Initiative, which promotes a conservative agenda focused on the Hispanic-American community, but not before working in President George W. Bush’s White House first. “My immigrant story is not unique,” says Garza, because the United States has a system that rewards hard work. “Perhaps Sen. Ted Cruz said it best: It is a country where somebody with nothing can become something.”

Polls shows wide bipartisan support for immigration reform, but if it is to become law this year it must be put on the calendar within the next few weeks to be voted on prior to the August recess. Diaz-Balart is cautiously more confident.

“The chance for passing today is 50-50, which is better than any other time but there is still more work to be done. It is taking a long time to get it right but we are getting there.”

Ros-Lehtinen credits Diaz-Balart for crafting legislation that meets with the approval of even the conservative members of Congress. “It is our tradition that there are no special privileges for those who broke the law. and this legislation is immensely fair and no one is jumping ahead of the line,” says Ros-Lehtinen.

“As long as we have this issue hanging over our community, we are stuck, unable to deal with other important things such as education,” says Plasencia. He is right; doing nothing is not an option. Failure of passage would also hurt Republicans politically, losing Florida like they lost California with the anti- immigrant platform of former Gov. Pete Wilson.

Reform-minded conservatives like Diaz-Balart, Ros-Lehtinen and others have the floor. It is time to move it forward.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

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