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Detouring Around Never Ever

by Geraldo RIvera | Nov 15, 2013

Desperate to change the subject from the implosion of his healthcare bomb, President Obama has been meeting with religious and business leaders, urging them to lobby their local legislators to pass immigration reform.  But he's preaching to the choir. Like the minister or priest who exhorts the faithful, his real target should be the sinner on the sidewalk outside the church. The 'sinners' when it comes to immigration reform are House Republicans, and they’re not interested in another sermon from this president.

Having expended his political capital in his Herculean effort to pass Obamacare without a single Republican vote, only to be humiliated by an atrocious website and a broken promise, our president is fresh out of clout.

Conversely, House Republicans are licking their chops over the president's self-inflicted wounds. Having forced him to admit his team screwed up on healthcare, they are in no mood to compromise on immigration reform. Right now the reform bill strenuously negotiated and passed in the Senate has as much chance of passage in the House as the proposed increase in the federal minimum wage, namely zero.

"I want us to deal with this issue, but I want to deal with it in a common sense, step-by-step way," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters this week. In this case a 'step-by-step' way means he'll allow the House to increase border security and immigration enforcement, but as he also said, there is no way he’s going to allow the House to vote on comprehensive reform. "I'll make clear that we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill."

"No intention of ever going to conference" on comprehensive immigration reform; never, ever. If you know any undocumented immigrants, please don’t delude them or yourselves. The Republican House leadership will not even allow consideration of a bill to ease their dreadful purgatory, much less an actual vote.

If meaningful reform legislation is impossible, what can we do?

Long-term, supporters of reform must in 2016 wield the political muscle that was so evident in the 2009 and 2012 presidential elections that put Barack Obama in the White House and kept him there. The avalanche of Latino votes briefly got Republicans' attention, but with most secure in their safe Gerrymandered congressional districts, many GOP representatives either forgot or on balance don’t care all that much. As I first said in 2007, when comprehensive immigration reform seemed imminent, only to be crushed, there will never be another Republican president unless and until their policies change.

But until then, what is an advocate for the undocumented to do?

Among other efforts, the shorter-term strategy must focus on the discretionary power of the president elected by Latinos to ease the plight of the undocumented. Like Mr. Obama has already done with the "DREAMer" kids, (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program), he can issue administrative orders to call off immigration agents and ease the rush to deport the kid's parents.

The other thing immigrant advocates can do is put pressure on State Houses and Governor's Mansions.

On Monday, Maryland became the 13th state to either issue or announce they will soon be issuing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants; joining Connecticut, Utah, California, North Carolina, Illinois, Oregon, Colorado, Rhode Island, Nevada, Washington State, Washington D.C., New Mexico and Vermont.

From the point of view of the immigrants, the advantages of driver’s licenses are obvious, mobility and the ability to feed their families. As importantly, a driver's license makes an immigrant ‘a somebody,’ a real person with a height, weight, eye color, race and date of birth. It is a conveyance of dignity and identity for these strangers in this strange land.

Of course, opponents of immigration reform object for some of those same reasons. Most say their opposition is based on the fear of fraud or terrorism; but those concerns are easily alleviated by captions and license labeling. The real, more enduring objection is the principle that a license 'rewards illegality.' Tell that to the pedestrian run over by an unlicensed, undocumented, uninsured driver.

After a decade of trying, it is a gross disappointment that House Republicans are blocking immigration reform. We have to continue that struggle. But we can't keep fooling ourselves that reform will happen anytime soon. Right now, no amount of hunger strikes or petitions from MacDonald's franchise owners or priests or rabbis will force the legislative agenda.

The political and demographic tipping point is close. Let’s continue fighting for comprehensive reform, but not be Pollyanna. It is not around the corner. Fight for your state to issue the undocumented a driver’s licenses. There is dignity there, and a beginning.

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