Will Arizona’ s draconian immigration law prompt Congress to act soon on immigration reform? Unlikely. The Democrats have too much on their plate right now -- financial reform, global warming legislation, selecting a Supreme Court nominee, selling health care reform to the public -- to tackle the difficult job of comprehensive immigration reform, including a way for undocumented immigrants to become legal.
For years, a majority of lawmakers in Congress have said the border needs to be secure before they will consider immigration reform. In March, the Department of Homeland Security’s plan to build a virtual fence across the U.S.-Mexico border ended just before the release of a report by a Government Accountability Office report slamming the system. Clearly, virtual fencing or real fencing may slow, but not completely stop, people from trying to cross the border for jobs. The failure of fencing may be used as an excuse not to act.
As I see it, immigration reform is not necessarily a Republican vs. Democrat issue or a conservative vs. liberal issue. Even Latinos are divided with some saying, “we had to work hard to get here, and did it legally,” while others saying, ” it’s okay because everybody does it.” And it is not necessarily a U.S.-Mexico issue either. Many non-Mexican immigrants from Latin America call themselves Mexican; otherwise they would be deported across several borders to their own countries. (Note that Mexico’s immigration policy is more severe than ours, because of the “drug wars” and pressure from the U.S., and its own xenophobia toward other Central American countries.)
Finally, immigration reform is at least tangentially related to the drug problem. U.S. law enforcement officials have identified at least 230 U.S. cities, including Anchorage, Atlanta, and Boston, where Mexican drug cartels or their affiliates maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors. And border states like Arizona have suffered a rise in drug-related crime attributed to the Mexican drug cartels. Marijuana is the largest cash crop in the U.S, more valuable than corn and wheat combined, and many of the marijuana plantations run by drug cartels are hidden in our federal and state parklands.
Congress will probably wait at least until Arizona’s law makes its way through the courts and is ultimately ruled unconstitutional, which will take any immigration reform well past mid-term elections.