As thousands of undocumented Central American migrants, including many unaccompanied children, continue to pour across the border, many immigration experts agree that reform efforts have ended, at least for now.
However, federal lawmakers who have championed legalization for undocumented immigrants say that reform still has a chance in Congress.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that immigration reform can still pass the House this year,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami, recently told el Nuevo Herald. “Although there are many who say immigration reform is a long shot, I remind them that many difficult bills have passed with hurdles that seemed insurmountable.”
Even if Congress adopts the immigration reform bill that the Senate approved last year, it still may not be enough to benefit all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, or the hundreds of thousands of additional unauthorized foreign nationals who have arrived since the cut-off date in the legislation — including the almost 50,000 unaccompanied minors received at the border since Oct. 1.
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Under the Senate bill, which most immigration activists want the House of Representatives to adopt, perhaps no more than nine million undocumented immigrants in the country as of Dec. 31, 2011 would be legalized.
Those who have arrived after that date — plus others who, for one reason or another, do not qualify under the bill — still would face deportation.
“The hope of immigration reform is dead,” said Jose Luis Gonzalez, a Peruvian migrant worker interviewed recently as he stood with other day laborers in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Little Havana’s Calle Ocho.
The notion that immigration reform may not fix the broken system has led some experts to urge President Barack Obama to use his executive powers to grant legal status to large numbers of unauthorized immigrants — regardless of whether Congress acts.
Miami immigration attorney Tammy Fox-Isicoff, who heads the media committee of the South Florida chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), has proposed that undocumented immigrants who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens be “paroled in place” — much in the same way that arriving Cuban immigrants without visas are allowed to stay.
For now, prospects appear less than dim for congressional immigration reform because of the recent defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who was perceived as favoring immigration reform. Cantor’s defeat in a Virginia Republican primary was seen as a signal to congressional leaders to abandon reform or face defeat in November elections.
Also, the unaccompanied children’s crisis at the border hasn’t helped matters.
“I am concerned by how this catastrophe seems to have caught the Administration off guard and without an adequate mitigation plan,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican from West Miami and one of the authors of the Senate immigration bill.
“The current situation stands in stark contrast to the assurances the American people have gotten from this Administration in recent years that the southwest border is already secure,” Rubio said in a June 13 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
Besides the children, tens of thousands of Central American adults also are crossing the border in higher numbers, according to U.S. officials.
Despite concerns about weak border controls, Rubio has indicated to reporters recently that he still believes immigration reform is necessary, that it’s an issue “that is hurting America and needs to be addressed.”
While the Senate passed the bipartisan immigration reform bill, which Rubio co-authored with seven other lawmakers, the House has not offered its own version. A bipartisan bill, led by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican Cuban-American from Miami, has not been filed. A bill that essentially mirrors the Senate bill, written by Rep. Joe Garcia, a Democrat Cuban-American from Miami, has been filed but not officially endorsed by the Republican leadership.
Diaz-Balart says in his website: “We need comprehensive immigration reform. We need to strengthen our border security, and we need to address the immigration issues inside our borders. One without the other will resolve nothing.”