November 14, 2013
By Barrington M. Salmon
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer
While President Barack Obama announced recently that passage of comprehensive immigration reform is a legislative priority, it’s unclear when and whether a bill will pass.
Groups and individuals who support the measure have marched, invited arrest and exerted enormous pressure on Obama to act on his promise.
The Senate – aided by the bipartisan Gang of Eight – produced a 1,100-page bill earlier this year but the measure is bottled up in the House of Representatives.
“The House is where the center of power lies in the Republican Party,” said Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for The New Yorker at the Oct. 31 forum held at the Georgetown Law School in Northwest. “… There was a time when they were coming to a cooperative relationship with the Democrats but that slowly ground to a halt … there is slow, bubbling opposition beneath the surface. [The Gang of Eight agreement] was the product of deals which don’t look so great close up. Grassroots, populist opposition grew.”
The Migration Policy Institute hosted the 10th annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference, where Lizza and other panelists said there is no consensus on passage of the bill. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said immigration reform is doable adding that there’s the very real possibility the House would produce its version of the measure.
“It ought to be done because it’s in the best interest of the country,” said Barbour, keynote speaker for the morning session. “If we don’t do it, it will get worse and worse. It would be worse to do nothing because what we’ve got has been an abject failure.”
“There is a group of Republicans and labor union Democrats who argue that they don’t want undocumented immigrants to be rewarded for breaking the law. Some Republicans take issue with the Farm Bureau, business, and the high-tech communities of California and Texas.”
Barbour, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, seems like an unlikely champion of comprehensive immigration reform, but what he saw after Hurricane Katrina devastated Mississippi’s Gulf Coast in August 2005 convinced him of the need for immigration reform.
“I was governor during Katrina and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, 64,000 units of housing were made uninhabitable,” he said. “We lost half of the housing stock in three counties and 40,000 homes not on the coast were also made totally uninhabitable.”
Barbour said 231 people died, 30 percent of them who didn’t live near the coast.
“We had a storm surge of 38 feet, the highest on record. It left utter obliteration and looked like the hand of God had wiped places away. In many cases, there was nothing left but a slab. And the guy who would build houses also had his house blown away. In a pretty short period of time we had an enormous influx of Spanish-speaking labor who numbered in the thousands.”
“They worked, lived in dreadful conditions. They worked well before dawn to after dark to try to help our people get back into some place they could live. Absolutely, I tell you it wouldn’t have happened without Spanish labor. It would not have happened.”