Barack Obama and the Future of Our Immigration Laws
Published: November 5, 2008

Today’s article is not a political one, especially because I am just as tired as you are of hearing about how wonderful or terrible an Obama presidency will be. The campaign is finally over, the hoopla is hopefully dying down, and whether you think President Elect Barack Obama is the real deal or just a fantasy – or maybe something in between, at some point in the near future the immigration issue will be up for discussion. On many people’s minds is whether comprehensive immigration reform – including a “path to citizenship” for the undocumented – is on the horizon for enactment.

For sure our broken US immigration system will be up for debate. Interestingly, in the months leading up to the election both presidential candidates pretty much avoided the politically charged, no good comes from talking about it, issue. The reality is that their visions on this issue are not that far apart, if different at all. In essence both Obama and John McCain are keenly aware that there are three basic choices in addressing the current state of affairs:

  1. Maintain the status quo i.e. continued execution of symbolic/token big ticket ICE raids combined with local and state anti-illegal immigrant initiatives that seek to make life so miserable for the undocumented, that most will just pick up and leave,
  2. Enact new laws to create a path to citizenship or legalize the undocumented OR
  3. Commence large-scale deportation proceedings for all the undocumented.

A visit to reveals that option #2 is President Elect Obama’s vision. One need only look at the bullet points to get a taste of his agenda:

  • Create Secure Borders, 
  • Improve our Immigration System, 
  • Remove Incentives to Enter Illegally, and
  • Bring People Out of the Shadows.

In essence, Obama knows just how essential the influx of hungry, hard working and enterprising foreign nationals has been and will continue to be for the success of our nation. Yes, the law and order crowd is right to call out the shortcomings of option #2 – after all who can argue with the concept that our laws must be respected and lawbreakers really do not deserve to be rewarded. On the other hand, it is highly unrealistic for us to think our country could equip itself with a law enforcement and judicial infrastructure to deport tens of millions of people, let alone stomach daily news accounts of neighborhood round ups – featuring crying women and children. More importantly, I highly doubt our politicians will tolerate the deportation of the people cleaning their homes, babysitting their children, cooking their food or cleaning their hotel rooms.

The next question is how Congress will process such a plan. After 8 years of a president who was a staunch supporter of option #2, the lesson is clear. Without congressional support, a presidential vision may not be worth much. Then again, in the past 8 years we are talking about a president whose visions, due to record low popularity, may very well have been rejected simply because they were his visions and not because they were unworthy.

A Guide to the Immigration Debate: When the immigration debate starts again, and it will, be on the look out for a variety of myths to make their way into political presentations and opportunities for posing. Here are the top 4 myths that some of the brightest and skilled of politicians will be tempted into employing:

  1. “Undocumented, or illegal immigrants are criminals.”
    Although they can rightly be called lawbreakers, the laws that have been broken, by and large, are not criminal laws. The undocumented or illegal immigrant is no more a criminal than the PTA mom who jay-walked or let her parking meter expire.
  2. “The undocumented should really ‘wait in the line’ like all their predecessors did.”
    In truth, for the vast majority of the tens of millions living in the U.S. illegally, there is no line. The current immigration laws include no vehicle for most to EVER become legal, and these individuals, as evidenced by their current existence, would rather be illegal in the U.S. than legal in their home countries… Which leads me to the next myth,
  3. “The undocumented are a drain on our economy.”
    Yes, I know, you can find all kinds of studies that confirm this myth, but I would bet that there are 3 times as many studies that show how the undocumented are actually a net plus, a big net plus for the economy. Look around and if you know someone who is undocumented, there is little chance he or she is sitting around every morning watching Oprah. It’s not if they have a job, it’s how many jobs do they have. The immigrant comes to this country to work, make money, send money back home and give a chance for their children to have a future – a future that does not exist in their own country. If given the choice, the illegal immigrant would not choose to leave his culture, his home, his people and his scenery, just to come to the US to receive welfare.
  4. “The undocumented necessarily lower the wages of US workers.”
    Again, no doubt there are numerous published studies to back up each side on this issue, yet the conversations I have with countless numbers of employers reveals a resounding, consistent theme: we can’t find US workers that want to work. In response to the follow up question: do you mean you can’t find US workers that want to work for cheap or under subpar conditions? – the answer, with few exceptions is, we can’t find US workers who want to work……period. Let’s face it, by the time they become second generation Americans, our children generally have no idea how good they have it in the U.S. Of course, it is not their fault. The ones who know how good they have it are the ones who are constantly reminded by their parents, and the ones leaving countries where it takes a month to make a day’s wages in the U.S.

The American public can look forward to a stimulating and sensational debate on this topic and maybe, just maybe, our new President will have more luck with his immigration agenda than his predecessor.

Copyright © 2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois