Monday, June 30, 2008

Immigration Reform

Immigration reform is among the hot topics of this election season, and candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have differed in their response to this issue.

The US has had a long history of immigration and naturalization, starting with the "free white persons" who are of "good moral character," to the diverse communities from around the world. With over 1 million immigrants entering this nation annually, limits have subsequently been placed, and harsher policies, such as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, have resulted in the deportation of millions since 1996.

With an estimated 12-20 million undocumented immigrants in the nation today (an exact number is impossible to determine), while many recognize that this nation's foundation is built by immigrant and/or historically marginalized communities, many argue that undocumented immigrants are a threat to the nation's economic and political stability. The immigration reform debate today centers around the question of granting amnesty, increasing border controls, deportation, national security, and worker or residential programs.

The blacklogs of people waiting for naturalization is additionally a large issue. CAIR has long urged the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to naturalize backlogged applicants. As of March 2008, over 350,000 applicants are backlogged. USCIS director Emilio Gonzalez said, "Our goal is to resolve this current processing delay as immediately as possible without taking shortcuts in the process that compromise national security or the agency’s integrity."

Where do Obama and McCain stand on immigration?

The issue of immigration has long been questioned in McCain's campaign, likely intentionally so. He continues to send mixed messages as he moves to the moderate stage, arguing for increased border security, holding a tougher line for employers that hire undocumented immigrants, and a path to citizenship, but explaining that the reform would be a "two-stage solution" rather than a "comprehensive reform". Rhetoric took a turn again, and McCain plans to travel to Latin America this week. The campaign hopes to use the issue of immigration as an asset, and perhaps keeping the stance shaky can help do that.

Obama's stance on immigration is not very different, though he repeatedly emphasizes that he is a champion for comprehensive immigration reform. Obama originally voted for the border fence, as did McCain, but has since then deemphasized his support, which is unpopular among Hispanic voters. Additionally, he supports a guest-worker program, arguing it will improve wages and conditions for all workers, supporting the failed Senate bill that McCain had cosponsored, though many argue that it would create a class of second-rate citizens who would never have equal rights. Obama very strongly supports giving undocumented immigrants a path towards acquiring driver's licenses, legal residency, and citizenship, stressing that it would have a positive impact on the economy of the US.

Senator Obama recently criticized Senator McCain for seemingly stepping away from the comittment to immigration reform. Appearing before a conference of Hispanic officials in Washington last week, McCain, while stating that this country values the contributions of the millions who have come to the US from Mexico, Central, and South America, emphasized the the US needed to secure its borders, adding that it should be done a humane fashion. Obama later accused McCain of walking away from the issue in an attempt to secure the GOP's nomination. McCain's campaign responded by saying that Obama had worked to defeat last year's reform, claiming that Obama's word "cannot be trusted."

The recent clash on the issue is not likely to die away soon, as both contenders vie for the Hispanic vote, in addition to the vote of other ethnic communities with high rates of immigration to the US.

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