Academics predict long wait for immigration overhaul


McClatchy Washington Bureau

The dramatic spike of unaccompanied minors illegally crossing the U.S.–Mexico border could mean a long-term setback to an already derailed immigration bill, some academic experts say.

“If this crisis gets prolonged … I think that’s a threat for immigration reform, not even in the short term but in the next few years,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate professor of political science at the University of California-Riverside.

Ramakrishnan also noted that many Americans support an overhaul that includes a path to citizenship, since it’s unrealistic to deport all undocumented immigrants. “But if the image starts getting through that the U.S. cannot control the movement of people…then there is a significant risk that public opinion will change (on) that issue.”

A poll last month by the Brookings Institution and the Public Religion Research Institute found 62 percent of Americans support allowing people living in the United States illegally to become citizens.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration asked Congress for $3.7 billion to address the surge of unaccompanied illegal minors who come increasingly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Meanwhile, some experts say this surge could undermine an immigration overhaul for years, as it bolsters the argument that border security precludes an immigration bill.

For Kevin Johnson, dean of the University of California-Davis School of Law and an expert in Chicano studies, an immigration bill could be years away as he finds the president soon reaching a lame duck status. However, since conservatives and liberals are dissatisfied with immigration laws, Johnson said, he believes “it’s just a matter of time before we get some kind of immigration reform.”

To Edward Alden, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, immigration bill discussions could come back as late as 2018, after the next presidential election. He explained that the Immigration Reform and Control Act passed by Ronald Reagan in 1986, which in part granted permanent legal status to about 3 million immigrants, took roughly seven years to pass. Recent efforts to revise immigration laws have been going on for about 14 years.

“Unfortunately the prospect of immigration reform now looks pretty dismal,” said Alden.

But Allegra McLeod, associate professor of law at Georgetown University, doesn’t consider the crisis in the southern border “fatal for the long-term prospects of immigration reform,” and said the influx of unaccompanied children “makes it visible and quite vivid how broken the immigration system is.”

Still, she believed that “there’s unwillingness in Congress to move reform forward, so most of the action will happen at the level of agency discretion; at the level of local communities… For now it’s unlikely that there will be any federal legislative fix.”

According to Pew Research Center, as of 2012 there were 11.7 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.

Email:; Twitter@ADavilaFragoso

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