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Report: Why immigration reform has gone nowhere since 9/11

Marchers in downtown Los Angeles rallying for immigration reforms on May 1, 2006
Marchers in downtown Los Angeles rallying for immigration reforms on May 1, 2006
Photo by jeromebot/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Why is it that in spite of public opinion poll support for broad immigration reforms and two presidents who have pushed for it recently, such initiatives have fallen short in the last decade?

The Migration Policy Institute examines the fate of immigration reform attempts in the post-9/11 era in a new report authored by Marc Rosenblum, an immigration policy specialist with the Congressional Research Service. From the executive summary:

The election of George W. Bush in 2000 seemed to mark a turning point in US immigration policy. Thirty- five years after the last major changes to the US immigration system, and two decades into an increasingly assertive, but mostly ineffective, immigration enforcement policy, the Republican president seemed to see immigration as offering important benefits to the US economy.

He called for a new and large-scale temporary worker program, saw the growing Hispanic population as important swing voters, and met five times in nine months with Mexico’s newly elected president, Vicente Fox.

But migration negotiations with Mexico collapsed following the terrorist attacks against the United States in September 2001. In the post-9/11 period, Congress passed a series of tough measures to tighten border security and facilitate data collection and information sharing on suspected terrorists, and broadened the government’s power to detain and deport immigrants.

Both Presidents Bush and Barack Obama have supported broader immigration reforms. Yet, while Congress took up “comprehensive immigration reform” (CIR) bills (i.e., legislation combining enforcement, legalization, and changes to the visa system) in 2006 and 2007, it did not deliver a bill for the president’s signature. Legislative action in 2009-10 was limited to debate on a legalization proposal focusing on unauthorized youth (the DREAM Act) — a proposal that was defeated on a procedural vote in the Senate.

Why the stalemate? Rosenblum examines the organizational changes that took place in the aftermath of 9/11 leading to a greater focus on enforcement, and what has happened since, with enforcement as "the default immigration policy." Complicated immigration politics and "short-term political considerations" have also impeded long-term reform plans, he writes.

It's a good read for anyone trying to understand what has happened to immigration reform efforts in the years since 2001 and even since 2006, when a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system seemed fairly imminent as immigrants and their supporters rallied around the country.

The entire report can be downloaded here.