Immigration Reform: Don't Expect Congress to Make Big Changes in 2013

ByErin Carrington Smith

We all know the drill. The new year rolls around and the fresh start of that crisp new calendar floods us with motivation to improve ourselves, get things done, make moves! We join a gym, buy cute new overpriced workout clothes, make a list. Our resolutions are generally the same things we failed to accomplish the year before — lose weight, quit smoking, go vegan, balance the budget, pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Every year, we get a few weeks or months in before getting tired, or distracted, or straight up lazy, and eventually our resolutions start to fade away. There’s usually a good excuse for this — it was my birthday, it’s just unreasonable to cut out all meat, we had an economic crisis to deal with, the Republicans were too mean, the Democrats wouldn’t budge!

Congress has become strikingly similar to that friend we all have (or ourselves, let’s be honest) who always seems to start a new project with energy and enthusiasm only to quietly stumble upon failure a few weeks or months down the road. Eventually, you just can’t get excited about their newest endeavor because you know it will never produce actual results.

Perhaps this is a cynical view of government (and people), but the current hullabaloo about this being the year we finally see real immigration reform just does not have me convinced.  It has been the same story for years and years, and for administration after administration — Congress just can’t seem to keep those 10 pounds off.  

Did you know the DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001? Before that, in 2000, the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security (AgJOBS) Act was first proposed. It was again introduced in 2003 and 2007, and was included in the failed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006. The Startup Visa Act was proposed in 2010 and 2011 ... and 2012. As you can probably guess, none of these bills have become laws.

This doesn’t mean we’ve seen no recent immigration reform. The two most recent and sweeping immigration policy changes, however, were accomplished through the policy making equivalent of liposuction or diet pills — the executive order.  

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order, signed in June, allows certain qualifying children brought here illegally by their parents as minors to apply for a two-year deferral on deportation. It was followed this past Wednesday by another order allowing the illegal immigrant family members of U.S. citizens to apply for a waiver of their assumed visa ineligibility (illegally present for more than 365 days) from within the United States, rather than leaving the country in fear of facing a 10-year ban.

While both these actions address some fundamental flaws in our immigration system, the reliance on quick fix solutions does nothing to solve the root causes of our current immigration woes, or address the intrinsic failure of Congress to fulfill it’s lawmaking duties.  This type of action, like any easy out, almost always results in long-term failure and relapse — the DACA, for example, requires participants to reapply every two years, never providing them with actual legal status, never changing a law.

The spotty evidence that immigration reform has finally found its moment relies mostly on things like “shifting tides” or extra time now that the fiscal cliff crisis has been averted for five minutes. However, Congress has done nothing to deserve the trust of the American people. They have failed time and again to accomplish even their most basic constitutional duties, and continue to provide zero evidence that they are up to the task of tackling comprehensive immigration reform.

But, who knows? I could be wrong. After all, maybe this really will be the year we all lose five pounds, and immigration reform finally becomes a reality.