Government Shut Down, Debt Ceiling Debate and Immigration Reform: Delays to the Inevitable

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San Diego Immigration Lawyer Rick Sterger says that the delays may seem endless but that hope is on the horizon for those seeking comprehensive immigration reform.

The conflict in Syria, the government shut-down and the debt ceiling debate all have distracted from the ongoing fight for immigration reform in the fall of 2013. Momentum seemed to be on the side of immigration reformers until Syria began to dominate headlines at the end of the summer. The government shut-down has recently put that momentum completely on hold in the halls of Congress. San Diego Immigration Attorney Rick Sterger of the firm Mitchell & Shea says that this is unfortunate but "change is on the way. There is no denying it. The status quo is simply unsustainable. The only question is how many more people will get caught up in the current immigration process before reform passes. Despite the Obama administration's support of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and the president's focus on deporting dangerous felons who are in the country illegally, millions of hardworking, honest but undocumented immigrants still live in fear that they will be deported. Reform cannot come soon enough for these people and their families."

Sterger does have plenty of reasons to be optimistic despite the recent setbacks. One of those reasons? Activists continue to speak up loudly for reform to be passed even when other news stories dominate the media. For instance, Carrie Dann and Andrew Rafferty of NBC News reported on October 8 that thousands of reform advocates marched on the National Mall to demand the passage of a sweeping federal immigration bill. Along with many other outspoken proponents of reform, eight members of the House of Representatives were arrested during the march ("Despite gridlock, immigration advocates keep up fight for reform").

Dann and Raferty, however, sound a pessimistic tone. Due to recent developments, "[a] years-in-the-making effort by a coalition of bipartisan House members to create their own comprehensive bill gradually crumbled." A bill that was once thought to be on the way to president's desk has been, basically, abandoned and House Republican leader John Boehner has not put that Senate-passed bill up for a vote despite having the bill since June.

That bill, introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer in April and titled the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, passed the Senate nearly six months ago. It provides a path to legal status for those undocumented immigrants who pay back taxes and penalties. To qualify for such status, the applicant would have to show that they have been in the United States continuously for at least five years and have no criminal record. It would not grant access to government programs but would provide a path to citizenship for millions currently in the nation illegally. The bill also provides increased border security and funding for employment verification checks.

"This bill is not perfect but it is a massive improvement," Sterger says. "When it, or some version of it, becomes law in the next few months, millions of immigrants will not have to live with the constant fear of deportation. One thing that is sure to remain a part of any substantial immigration overhaul is a new way of granting legal status. Right now, obtaining legal status was just unrealistic for so many undocumented immigrants."

Sterger continues by saying, "Over the last several decades there have been many times that massive immigration reform seemed forthcoming. This time, however, it's different." But he adds that the recent Congressional gridlock and brinksmanship over the debt ceiling is a disappointment. "For almost all of 2013, there was a sense that something new was on the horizon but the debates in Washington about the budget and the Affordable Care Act have created a massive distraction. In a perfect political environment, getting reform passed in the House was going to be difficult. But the current climate is less than ideal. That just means the wait may be a little bit longer." He concludes by saying "11 million undocumented immigrants, their families and their advocates are not simply going to disappear. And their advocates are an important voting bloc. Neither political party can ignore that fact."

Whether or not the Senate version of immigration reform does make it to the president's desk or not, Sterger, and many others, seem to believe that an overhaul to immigration is imminent. Unfortunately, the current political and fiscal fires in Washington will continue to steal the headlines. The current march on Washington, however, demonstrates that even when the nation's focus seems to be on other issues, reform advocates will not be silenced. Their voices, it seems, may soon break through the din.

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