When the New York Times reported in its September 5 issue that the “G.O.P. Sets Aside Work on Immigration,” this practically confirmed our deepest fears. Immigration reform is officially one of the casualties of the steadily rising election fever.
According to the report, any effort toward “a broad overhaul of immigration laws” will be set aside in favor of national security measures that are consistent with the declared priorities of the ruling Republican Party.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) announced that House leaders are poised to conduct hearings to discuss measures to seal the border while continuing the dialogue with the Senate. It will be recalled that the House of Representatives proposed what is considered the most draconian immigration law in decades. H.R. 4437 is famously hard-hitting for its provision that criminalizes undocumented immigrants and those who assist them.
The massive campaign for immigration reform was able to convince the Senate to come up with S. 2611, a more holistic approach to border security issues, visa processing backlogs and undocumented immigrants.
The strong anti-immigrant sentiment in the Republican-led House prompted an unusual maneuver that successfully stalled further action on immigration reform. Instead of sitting down with their Senate counterparts to hammer out a mutually acceptable immigration bill, House leaders opted to conduct nationwide hearings.
Now it is undeniably too late to push the immigration reform agenda forward with elections just around the corner.
Presidential aspirant, Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), reportedly told an Iowa audience recently that “broad legislation addressing what to do about millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States might have to await the next Congress.”
Even the author of the latest attempt at an immigration reform compromise, Rep. Mike Pence, threw in the towel when he said that it was “doubtful that legislation would reach Mr. Bush’s desk before the election.”
Regardless of the Republicans’ effort to package themselves now as the sentinels of homeland security, they can no longer deny the fact that they have missed out on the golden opportunity to fix a terribly broken immigration system.
In the meantime, there are still battles to be fought for immigration reform even this late in the game. The Filipino community can continue to advocate certain legislative measures that would benefit specific sectors such as healthcare workers and Filipino World War II veterans.
For instance, the 50,000 visas recaptured for Schedule A occupations, specifically for foreign registered nurses and physical therapists are expected to run out in November. The need for foreign RNs and PTs cannot be overemphasized. Many of these healthcare professionals come from the Philippines and their deployment to the US will be delayed by years if another visa retrogression would occur.
It would help to join forces with the US healthcare sector on this matter. Many medical centers, clinics and nursing homes across the country have called for the relaxation of immigration requirements for foreign workers to ease their severe understaffing problems. Studies have conclusively shown that the shortage of nurses has strong implications on the quality of healthcare that the American public receives.
In the case of Filipino WW II veterans, the proposal to grant special immigrant status to their adult children could be kept alive as a separate proposal even as S. 2611 would be shelved at this point. Filipino WW II vets are still earnestly campaigning for equity and recognition as US war veterans. The special immigrant status for the veterans’ adult children can be asserted along with the claim for equity.
We can aim for smaller victories and build our campaign for a comprehensive immigration reform eventually when the next Congress buckles down to work. With the different party composition, the next Congress might be up to the task of fixing our immigration system.
Editor’s Note: REUBEN S. SEGURITAN has been practicing law for over 30 years. For further information, you may call him at 212 695 5281 or log on to his website at www.seguritan.com