Idaho Leaders Believe Immigration Reform is Within Reach

They came to the United States as children, their parents bringing them into the country illegally through no fault of their own.

For some, it’s the only home they’ve ever known. Though they’re undocumented, they hope to build their lives here.

And their future lies in the hands of elected officials for whom they can’t vote.

As many as two million undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States as children could qualify to stay under the proposed DREAM Act, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. While Congress has unsuccessfully worked on immigration reform for years, one of Idaho’s congressmen is optimistic that gridlock will soon dissolve.

But with different proposals on the table, no one knows what that reform might look like.

DREAM Act vs. Deferred Action
There are plenty of immigration reform options for Congress to consider.

The widely cited DREAM Act gives legal permanent residency to qualifying undocumented students. First introduced in 2001, the bill has been reintroduced in various forms frequently since then.

Despite Democrats controlling both House and Senate in 2010, Senate Republicans blocked passage of the bill through filibuster.

In June 2012, President Barack Obama issued an executive order deferring deportation cases for undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria, such as graduating school and having no significant criminal record.

Deferred action isn’t DREAM — it offers no path to citizenship, for one — but it’s a step in the right direction, said immigration attorney Jeremy Pittard in an interview last week.

“I’d like to see it become legislation,”said Pittard, who practices in Twin Falls and Jerome. “It’s going to take an act of Congress to make this permanent.”
The STEM Act
The DREAM Act and deferred action aren’t the only immigration proposals, and not all deal with undocumented immigrants.

U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, proposed the STEM Act in September. STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, aimed to make it easier for foreign-born graduate students to stay in the United States by eliminating bureaucratic barriers in the visa program.

That would help not only those graduate students, but the United States economy, Labrador said.

“Right now, foreign born students are benefitting from our education system, and then going home to compete with us,”Labrador said in a September speech on the U.S. House Floor.

The bill, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass, died in the House despite bipartisan support.

In a Tuesday interview with the Times-News, Labrador said he’s optimistic Congress will reconsider the bill.

An Ambitious Reform Plan
Labrador, who has 15 years of experience as an immigration attorney, said the STEM Act is only one piece of the complex immigration reform puzzle. He also hopes to strengthen border security and expand the guest worker program to dairy workers.

Labrador doesn’t support theDREAMAct, Deferred Action or any form of amnesty for undocumented immigrants. That doesn’t mean he’s ignoring the plight of people who would qualify for deferred action.

“We have to find a solution for these kids who are here through no fault of their own,”he said.

But to solve the problem, Congress needs to look at immigration as a whole, he said. It’s too easy for people to enter the country illegally, and too difficult for them to enter legally, he said. But, he said, most of those individuals should go back to their home countries and reapply to come into the country legally.

His office is researching previously introduced proposals. If Labrador wins his re-election campaign — he faces Democratic challenger Jimmy Farris in the general election — he plans to tackle immigration reform and work with both Senate and House membership in both parties to reach a consensus.

“We’re really close, I think,”Labrador said.

The other players
Getting Congress to agree on the details of reform is tricky.

Most Congressional Democrats support the DREAM Act, while most Republicans tend to focus on tighter border security and guest worker programs.

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, supported the DREAM Act in 2005, but now opposes amnesty.

“Crapo’s initial support for provisions of the DREAM Act came because he feels children should not be held accountable for the actions of their parents who may have broken U.S. law to come here. He still feels a visa situation should be studied to avoid breaking up families,”said Lindsay Nothern, Crapo’s spokesman, in an e-mail to the Times-News.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he wouldn’t continue deferred action if he wins, but wouldn’t revoke the status for those already approved, according to an interview with the Denver Post.

“Before those visas have expired, we will have the full immigration reform plan that I’ve proposed,”Romney told the Post.

Though another president could do away with Deferred Action, Pittard doesn’t think that’s going to happen.

“I think the political backlash of that could be tremendous,”Pittard said.