'Jan Brewer Clause' Could Threaten Immigration Reform

Rachel Maddow last night offered what may be the most important response to Tuesday's announcement of a bipartisan immigration reform plan. In her reporting on and discussion of the plan from a group of eight Senators -- four from each party -- she offered this kernel of wisdom:

This is -- this is an incremental centrist consensus lift of long accepted moderate reforms, which in any reasonable political science, reasonable understanding of how Washington works, this should be totally viable, should be. But, of course, this isn`t political science. This is our real Washington. And that means it has to go through the House too, where mark my words, watch. The Jan Brewer clause will be the only part of this thing that they like.

So what is the "Jan Brewer clause" anyway? It is what might be described as a poison pill, a provision in the bipartisan that would create an undefined panel of southwestern politicians -- governors, local officials, etc. -- who would have a say over how immigration reform would move forward. As Maddow points out, Democrats and Republicans differ on what role this panel would play and how much power it may be given. But the existence of such a proposal creates an impression that it is Southwesterners who know best both the impact of the immigration issue but also how best to address it.

The absurdity of this thinking was on full display yesterday during the press conference. Two Latinos were among the new gang of eight and neither hailed from the southwest -- Democrat Robert Menendez is from New Jersey and Republican Marco Rubio is from Florida. The rest of the gang of eight were white, male and -- aside from Michael Bennett of Colorado -- in their 50s. This is not a representative group. And Menendez and Rubio are far from representative of the immigrant community -- both are of Cuban dissent, while the bulk of Latino immigrants come from Mexico and South America.

This does not diminish the importance of the other proposals -- all of which are relatively moderate and all of which should be adopted as quickly as possible.

I emailed several New Jersey immigration activists who responded that they though the proposals were a good start. Oscar Barbosa, an immigration attorney in Elizabeth, responded this way:

The most important point is that the 11 million undocumented will have a path to citizenship, and that new visas will be available for "non-skilled" workers.

  We'll see. There is still a lot of work to be done in Trenton too, including in-state tuition, problems with secure communities and driver licenses for immigrants.

Maria Juega, executive director of the Latin American Legal Defense and Educaton Fund in Trenton, was a bit less optimistic. She thought it was "too soon" and that the proposal was "too vague to make any kind of judgment." She wanted to wait to see how the president would react, though MSNBC is reporting that he will back the Senate plan to avoid muddying the waters on the issue. Juega added:

Personally, I don't think a comprehensive bill is possible this year (if ever!) but some piecemeal legislation could be passed (a la DREAM Act and AgJobs).

Sadly, I think she's right. The gang of eight means that movement in the Senate could happen, but that is only one hurdle. The other is a much more conservative and anti-immigrant House of Representatives. For it to get through the House, John Boehner would need to post it for a vote (unlikely) and then supporters would need to cobble together a coalition of supportive Democrats (likely to be most of them) and enough Republicans to cross the 50 percent-plus-1 threshold. And that assumes that there would not be the assorted procedural blocks that often arise.

The package as outlined -- absent what Maddow has called the "Jan Brewer clause" -- has the potential to make real change in the lives of the undocumented by regularizing their status and offering a pathway to legality, but those are not the only issues in play. Access to the courts to address issues of fair housing, employment violations and the like without the threat of deportation must be a chief component of anything that passes. And the federal government should put incentives in place to encourage states to grant access to instate tuition, health programs and drivers' licenses to those who are now undocumented.

Perhaps most importantly, the demonization has to stop. Jan Brewer and her fellow extremists need to be stripped of their platforms and power and no longer rewarded for the racist rhetoric they use to keep the issue burning.

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