Obama vs Romney Presidential Debate: Next Debate Must Focus on Immigration


The vice presidential debate between Biden and Ryan ended without a discussion on immigration reform. The first debate between Obama also ended without a discussion on immigration. Immigration reform is being discussed everywhere except at the presidential debates.Immigration reform is an economic and national security issue and this Tuesday, October 16, in the second of three debates between Obama and Romney, immigration should be a major topic to be covered in detail.

Immigration has always been a valued hallmark of the American tradition. There are millions of undocumented immigrants paying taxes even though they are here without proper paperwork. We do not have the manpower, technology, or budget to deport 12 million immigrants. We are not a country that is going to break up families so we need reform that addresses these families. Children who are born here are granted citizenship, are we going to break up those families because the parents of these minors are undocumented immigrants? What of the teenagers of undocumented immigrants, born and raised here in the best traditions of America, enjoying full citizenship, but now caught between a rock and hard place because their means of support, their undocumented parents are facing deportation? The Dream Act addresses those under 30, but what about a Dream Act for senior citizens? We have solutions for those who wish to be productive, e.g.  The Dream Act and we have solutions for those who are committing crimes, deportation. But what are we going to do with those undocumented immigrants that are getting a “free ride.” i.e. not working, not contributing but consuming resources. Immigration is a national security issue, so why aren’t we deploying the military on the border?. We have the technology to assist with border patrol, such as drone technology, so why aren’t we using it to effectively close the border?  Many business people are advocating that we actually increase the number of highly-skilled immigrants to fill jobs required to support the new economy. While others call for an expansion of guest worker programs to address labor shortages.

Comprehensive immigration reform was a major issue during the Republican presidential primary debates. It has been a topic of controversy this year from the Supreme Court case involving Arizona’s immigration law to Obama’s invocation of a temporary directive to “subjectively prosecute” those undocumented immigrants involved in illegal activity.

During the Republican primaries the candidates vigorously debated their positions on immigration reform. Many of the candidates recommended a 2,000 mile electrified border fence to enhance border security. Other options included proposals to increase the number of border patrol soldiers and expanded and improved usage of technology. During the primary a new concept of self-policing was introduced called self-deportation.

This summer former presidential candidates Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain advocated the building of a fence to secure the border between the United States and Mexico. When President Obama said sarcastically that Republicans wanted a moat filled with alligators, according to the New York Times, Cain responded by saying that he would indeed add an alligator-filled moat to his proposed fence, which would be topped with electrified barbed wire. Cain said, “It’s going to be 20 feet high. It’s going to have barbed wire on the top. It’s going to be electrified. And there’s going to be a sign on the other side saying, ‘It will kill you — Warning.’” Texas Governor Rick Perry represented the sentiments of border state governors. In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Perry said, “The federal government's complete and absolute failure to secure our border put a lot of pressure on governors no matter where they might be to have to deal with issues.”

That failure has led a number of states to enact legislation independent of the federal government to address immigration control in their states. Alabama, Georgia and Arizona have all crafted and passed measures in their states to address immigration and all of these state-sponsored measures have been challenged in federal courts, the most notable of which was Arizona SB1070 which was tried before the Supreme Court this year. In a split decision the court struck down many of the provisions of the state law, but left in place the right of the state to verify the legal status of a person as part of any routine law enforcement action. The controversial ruling  requires an officer to make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested if there's reasonable suspicion that person is in the country illegally.

Alabama immigration bill, HB658, was signed into law in May. The law is similar to the Arizona law but considered much more restrictive. The law was challenged by the Obama administration and in September the most restrictive measures were blocked by the appeals court. CNN reported, “The judges blocked parts of the Alabama law in August, including language that makes it a crime for undocumented immigrants to work or solicit work; imposed criminal penalties to hide "an alien" or rent property to anyone in the United States illegally; and required state officials to check the immigration status of children in public schools.”

Many immigration experts felt that Alabama’s law represented the framework behind Mitt Romney’s concept of self-deportation. Self-deportation is a concept whereby illegal immigrants would voluntarily return to their native countries, presumably because conditions were unfavorable to their remaining in the U.S.

President Obama’s efforts to address immigration reform have ranged from minimal to utter failure. In 2008, Obama promised that immigration reform would be addressed during his tenure, a promise he has failed to keep. In an eye-opening interview with the Spanish-language television station Univision, Obama was challenged to explain his performance on immigration reform. Univision reporter Jorge Ramos said. “This is very important; I don’t want it to get lost in translation. You promised that, and a promise is a promise and with all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise.”  Obama’s response to the intense questioning was, "My biggest failure so far is we haven't gotten comprehensive immigration reform done." This year Obama was presented with an opportunity to strike a grand bargain of non-partisan support for immigration reform. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a leading proponent for the Dream Act, was drafting legislation for the bill when Obama issued a directive to temporarily suspend the pursuit of those immigrants that would have been permanently protected by the Dream Act.

The failure to pass an immigration reform bill does not wholly reside with Obama’s administration. In 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, and in 2006 the U.S. Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006. Neither bill became law because their differences could not be reconciled in conference committee.

This Tuesday I am expecting that immigration reform will finally be addressed during the debate. The debate will be a town hall meeting, moderated by CNN anchor Candy Crowley. The candidates will take questions from the audience and be given two minutes to respond. Crowley will guide the discussion and ask follow-up questions as needed. The candidates should be prepared to answer these and other questions on immigration:

1) Do you support the Dream Act?

2) What are your plans to introduce a Guest Worker Program to address the millions of undocumented immigrants in America? How will you address labor unions who oppose Guest Worker programs? Are you prepared to relax minimum wage laws for guest workers?

3) What plans do you have to increase the number of H1B visas so that we can attract the high-skilled talent we need for tomorrow’s economy and retain the raw talent being trained in our higher learning institutions?

4) What “magnet” programs are you willing to implement or close in order to control immigration?

5) What measures will you take to secure the border? Do you advocate the use of the military to protect our borders? Will you increase the number of border patrol officers?

6) What technology are you willing to deploy to protect the border? Are you willing to use drone technology to monitor the border?

7) Will you build a fence? What type, how long, where?

8) Do you support a “Senior Citizen” version of the Dream Act?

9) Do you believe undocumented immigrants should be eligible for government supported programs paid for by tax payer dollars, including education, health care, housing, and food?

10) Will you increase the budget necessary to capture and deport undocumented immigrants involved in criminal activity? What measures will you take to drive efficiencies in the deportation process so that we can expedite the deportation process?

11) Are you prepared to use force with foreign nations who may refuse to accept returning immigrants?

12) What is your position on eVerify and other measures to ensure that businesses are not violating immigration law?

13) Do you believe in open borders? Why or why not?

14) Do you support one time amnesty; if not then what pathway to citizenship do you propose for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in America?

15) If immigration reform framework makes it untenable to remain here and millions of immigrants self-deport, what impact will that have on the economy? How will we make up that tax revenue?  How will we address that labor shortage? 

Immigration reform has been as elusive a goal for the president, as national health care was until Obama signed the Affordable Care Act; and it has been just as polarizing within the parties and the electorate. The American people deserve to hear the candidates' position on one of the critical issues of th day. Immigration reform is an issue that touches all aspects of a president's administration; jobs, economic growth, collective bargaining, national defense, social welfare, and foreign policy. I look forward to Crowley leading a discussion on the topic during Tuesday's debate.