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August 08, 2013 11:15 AM Immigration Reform Movement’s Plan B

By Ed Kilgore

At National Journal Fawn Johnson offers an interesting peek behind the wall of unity disguising immigration reform advocates have built in favor of the Senate-passed Gang of Eight legislation, where a “Plan B” to be implemented if House conservatives block legislation in this Congress is quietly being discussed:

Immigration-reform activists aren’t supposed to talk publicly about a “Plan B.” They can’t, or won’t, answer questions from the media about what they will do if no bill passes this year to legalize the undocumented population. But as August wears on and there is no clear sense of what the House will do on immigration, some are starting to speak out.
“There are groups that are for immigration reform no matter what. Then there are groups like us, grassroots…. We have the other track,” said Adelina Nicholls, the executive director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. “The other track is Barack Obama.”
The idea behind the “other track” is to freeze the current undocumented population in place through an administrative order, give them work permits, and hope for a better deal under the next president, with the hope that he or she is a Democrat. It’s a significant gamble, but some advocates—particularly those outside of the Washington legislative bartering system—argue that it’s better than what they stand to see under the legislation being discussed now….
The Obama administration…has already flexed its muscle and shown that it is willing to exert authority to stop the deportation of hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth through its deferred-action program announced last year. The immigrant community argues that there is no reason that this administrative authority cannot expand further to include other “low priority” candidates for deportation—i.e., parents of “dreamers” or parents of children who are citizens because they were born here, people who are employed, people who are caregivers, and so on.

The possibility of essentially freezing the status of the undocumented in place until a more propitious political moment arrives for a more thorough reform is made even more attractive by disgruntlement with the Senate bill (exacerbated by the likelihood that any legislation navigating the treacherous shoals of the House would be significantly less attractive):

[T]he immigrant-advocacy community has a host of complaints about the Senate bill that passed in June, which would provide a tangled, treacherous 13-year path to citizenship for immigrants here illegally. It also would double the border patrol and require all employers to electronically check that their workers have papers.
Activists fear the Senate bill would militarize the border such that no one could live there without constantly being stopped and asked for a passport. They fear that it will drive undocumented immigrants who don’t qualify for legalization further underground. They have a hard time saying that they enthusiastically support it.
“We tentatively support it, but our concern is that the bill is only going to get worse. We’re not committed to continue to support it,” said Kate Woomer-Deters, a staff attorney at the Immigrant Rights Project for the North Carolina Justice Center.

So long as there is a chance something much like the Senate bill can be enacted, this “Plan B” talk will remain in the shadows, and you can be sure there will not be a peep from the White House suggesting there’s anything other than a maximum push for the Senate bill in the works. Who knows, there may be some realization among anti-reform conservatives that “winning” their battle against the Senate bill won’t take other options off the table, and that “the base” will partially blame them for not anticipating that contingency. We’ll know soon enough.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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