Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

US Notebook: Fury over bombings can't stop immigration reform

Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev
Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev
Students stand outside the dormitory where Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsamaev lived (AP/Standard Times, Peter Pereira)
Students stand outside the dormitory where Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsamaev lived (AP/Standard Times, Peter Pereira)
President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

It was supposed to be the issue that got Republicans to temporarily melt their anti-Obama cold, cold hearts. But what a difference a couple of bombs in Boston have made in political sparring on US immigration law reform.

Anyone even casually familiar with American politics knows that winning 71% backing from Latino voters in November is a major reason why Barack Obama still enjoys the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Air Force One views.

And if any Republican hopes to win the Oval Office in 2016, it won't be their professed love of Mexican food, or salsa, that woos Latinos. Walking the right walk and not just talking the right talk will be needed to convince Latinos that Republicans really care about giving a fair shake to their extended family members, friends and fellow countrymen when it comes to immigration.

So, immigration law reform is undoubtedly going to happen. And, since most politicians primarily care about staying in office, it will happen before the 2014 mid-term congressional elections.

But, much to the chagrin of Republican moderates, the deadly Boston Marathon bombings – allegedly launched by the foreign-born Tsarnaev brothers – has given conservative Republicans an opening to try to slow and dilute efforts currently working their way through Congress.

The biggest push now is a proposal from the 'Gang of Eight' – four Democrat and four Republican senators – which has also drawn conditional praise from Barack Obama.

It would beef-up border security, expand requirements for employers to verify the legal status of their workforce, significantly boost the number of visas allotted to high-tech workers and provide a lengthy, multi-staged pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the US.

The Gang of Eight's 844-page proposal also calls for 10,500 visas for Irish immigrants with the equivalent of high school degrees.

The jury is still out as to whether or not the Boston attack has dampened the US public's enthusiasm for a citizenship pathway. A poll last week by the Quinnipiac University in Connecticut found that, although 52% still support a citizenship pathway, that number has had dropped 7% since the bombings. And, as if any wake-up call were needed for Republicans, the PRRI poll also found that 45% of people felt that the party's stance on immigration has hurt its electoral performance.

The Boston bombings and the flood of Press stories about the suspects's supposed international terror ties will be, at best, a speed-bump on the road to an inevitable overhauling of America's immigration laws.

At the end of the day, party politics will rule the day. And upper-echelon Republican strategists know full well that they are toast if they don't adapt to meet America's fast-changing ethnic and racial demographic realities.

That is the reason why, no matter how long the delay in passing legislation, there will be no stopping a pathway to citizenship for America's shadowy legions of undocumented immigrants.

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