Will the Congressional Primaries Influence Immigration Reform?

As the dust is settling from last week’s primary elections, many politicians and pundits will try to interpret what the American public is thinking. The reactions and responses are likely to span the ideological and political scales. Whether Democrats aren’t Democratic enough, or Republicans aren’t Republican enough, or seats held by one party should be replaced by the other, one thing is clear: Americans are frustrated with their current leaders and want new representation.

Immigrant advocates will be asking themselves what role immigration played in the primaries. The fact is that the immigration issue probably played a small role, if any, in Tuesday’s elections. Quite frankly, Members don’t have much of a record on the issue for voters to base their votes on because Congress has been too scared to take on the issue and see what their constituents say about it. But the sentiments behind the immigration debate echo what we saw in the polls—the public has grown tired with inaction.

Americans are fed up—regardless of what party they affiliate with. They see the country going to hell in a hand basket and no one is doing anything about it. Other than health care, it is hard to name a single other legislative initiative from the past year. The extended and vicious health care debate deflated many hopes of Congress working together to solve any of the other real problems experienced by Americans. Rather than working together, members from both parties—as well as pundits—seem to take any opportunity to stake out their ground and distance themselves from those deemed their opposition. From oil spills to financial regulation to Supreme Court nominations, the conversation is one of political positioning rather than problem-solving.

Immigration is no different. Americans agree that the immigration system is broken and something must be done about it. For the last several years Congress has failed come up with a solution, despite the evidence that this is an important issue to their constituencies. The 2006 and 2007 battles over comprehensive immigration reform were nasty and divisive. Because Congress hasn’t acted and the problem isn’t resolving itself, some states and localities have taken action—some out of a genuine desire to fix the problem, and others to score political points. The newly passed law in Arizona and the various copycats are evidence that the states are not backing down.

Whether Republican or Democrat or Independent, Americans are frustrated with Washington’s unwillingness and inability to advance a real conversation on immigration reform. Like many of the other issues facing us today, immigration is very complex and requires an honest, thoughtful debate rather than name-calling, playing politics, and demagoguery. Let’s hope that yesterday’s elections sent the message that Americans want real action.

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