Immigration: The Political Rubik’s Cube

Mar 24, 2013
6:13 PM

First, the good news: Immigration reform has gained support among Democrats and Republicans. And now, the bad news: Immigration reform also has some very determined opponents in both parties.

As recent headlines show, the pro-reform Republicans include national party leaders who see their party in a demographic death spiral without Latino support along with employers in labor-starved industries. Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, worried about the negative effects on Latino voters of racist-laced rhetoric against illegal immigration, urged the GOP to “stop being the stupid party.” Meanwhile, high-tech business leaders have organized a “virtual march for immigration reform” to bring more skilled workers into the country as part of a comprehensive immigration bill. All this bodes well for a bi-partisan reform effort. However, the Republicans are deeply divided on the issue.


Opposing reform in the GOP is the nativist fringe. Their xenophobic fears are best summed up by a woman at a Tea Party rally with a sign that read: I want my country back. Along with Tea Party types, the nativist wing is represented by well-organized lobbying groups like NumbersUSA, Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee (ALIPAC), the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). Although the Republican national leadership has scaled back its support for these groups, they will still pose a formidable obstacle to immigration reform. Their members have proven to be energetic and highly vocal in the past. “An amnesty bill is going to split the party,” FAIR spokesman Bob Kane told the New York Times.

On the surface, Democratic support appears strong. President Obama has declared that immigration reform is a priority of his second term. But labor unions, a powerful Democratic constituency, are opposed to a key component of any comprehensive immigration bill: a guest worker program. Will the Democrats risk a major source of funds and organizing power and pass a bill opposed by big labor? Not likely.

The safest play for the Democrats will be to pay lip service to comprehensive immigration reform, do very little to see it passed, and blame the Republicans when it doesn’t. This tactic will secure Democratic support among Latinos while avoiding a confrontation with big labor.

How do supporters of immigration reform solve this political Rubik’s Cube? One way is to avoid a “comprehensive” bill altogether. Remember the horror show of divisiveness over comprehensive health care reform? That debate might seem civil compared to the passions comprehensive immigration reform could stir.

We’ve made progress on the DREAM Act. Let’s push it over the top. A guest worker program is another piece of immigration reform that could be passed separately (with Republican support) and help undocumented workers come out of the shadows. Increasing the number of visas for highly skilled workers would help the U.S. become more competitive as well. Taken one at a time, each issue has a better chance of emerging intact than as part of a behemoth comprehensive bill requiring compromises that will leave everyone dissatisfied.

Let’s solve the immigration Rubik’s Cube by passing reforms one at a time.


raul_ramos_y_sanchezRaul Ramos y Sanchez is the award-winning author of the novels AMERICA LIBRE, HOUSE DIVIDED and PANCHO LAND. He is also host and editor of For more information visit