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Glimmers of Hope on Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

February 7, 2011, 4:49 pm | Posted by John Gehring

As we’ve blogged about many times before, Congress’ failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform has led Arizona and other states to adopt punitive, enforcement-only measures that are both impractical and inhumane. Now that Republicans control the House and Tea Party rhetoric has driven the debate further right, prospects are still dim for a major breakthrough any time soon. But there are glimmers of hope that should inspire faith-based and secular advocates to keep the pressure on.

Politico reports today that Sen. Lindsey Graham (who still needs to make amends for voting against the DREAM Act) and Sen. Chuck Schumer have resumed conversations about building political will behind comprehensive reform. These influential leaders are essential to building bipartisan support and have again started outreach to a diverse coalition of faith, business and labor leaders:

Now, conservative evangelicals, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, business organizations and immigrant advocacy groups say they have gotten word from Schumer’s office that a renewed effort is under way. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce confirmed that it is back in the mix, after a hasty exit last year when Schumer proposed a legislative framework with a temporary worker program that favored labor unions. And Schumer and his staff have quietly begun reaching out to some unlikely players in the Senate, including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who has professed a newfound freedom since winning reelection last year without the Republican Party’s help.

This is an important development, especially considering that defeat of the DREAM Act last December left many advocates skeptical about prospects for progress in the new Congress. It’s also a good sign that Graham and Schumer recognize the vital role religious leaders and faith communities will play in getting this done. The U.S. Conference of Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Religious Action Center for Reformed Judaism and other high-profile religious groups have made comprehensive reform a priority for years. The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign, which earned kudos from Kim Bobo of Interfaith Worker Justice for their on-the-ground organizing in Arizona, is also keeping the pressure on the Obama administration to end Immigration & Custom Enforcement (ICE) programs that tear families apart and contribute to racial profiling.

Along with new energy on Capitol Hill, it’s also good to see Arizona-inspired immigration bills losing momentum in other states. As the Washington Post reported recently, many of these bills are facing a tangle of challenges:

State budget deficits, coupled with the political backlash triggered by Arizona’s law and potentially expensive legal challenges from the federal government, have made passage of such statutes uncertain. In the nine months since the Arizona measure was signed into law, a number of similar bills have stalled or died or are being reworked. Some have faced resistance from law enforcement officials who question how states or communities could afford the added cost of enforcing the laws. And some state legislators have backed away from the most controversial parts of the Arizona law, which have been challenged in court by the federal government and others.

The faith community deserves credit for keeping comprehensive immigration reform alive. Expect a diverse array of religious leaders to continue playing a key role in making sure our nation’s broken immigration system is fixed in a way that’s fair, practical and humane.

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