Is Hillary Clinton a polarizing figure, or is it just that an already-polarized electorate has widely different opinions about her?
Hearing the presidential contender talk about comprehensive immigration reform, I'm inclined to think that a good chunk of the responsibility lies with her. That's because what she said May 5 at a high school in Nevada amounted to the usual distortions about immigration reform:
The American people support comprehensive immigration reform … because they know it strengthens families, strengthens our economy, and strengthens our country. … We can't wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship. … Make no mistakes, today not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one. When they talk about legal status, that is code for second-class status. … I will fight to stop partisan attacks on the executive actions that would put DREAMers, including those with us today, at risk of deportation. And if Congress continues to refuse to act, as president, I would do everything possible under the law to go even further.
Leaving aside the "Americans want" and "code words" rhetoric, Clinton is caricaturing opponents of comprehensive immigration reform – even those who want legal status for illegal immigrants – as treating illegal immigrants as second-class citizens.
As President Barack Obama has outlined on several occasions, comprehensive immigration reform would give immigrants who have been here for, say, five years after crossing the border illegally or overstaying their visa, legal status (and eventually U.S. citizenship) if they pay a fine, learn English, keep out of trouble and go to the "back of the line" in the immigration process.
Some call this is tough but fair, others say it amounts to amnesty. Comprehensive immigration reform is certainly leniency, because illegal immigrants would get less punishment than what's currently on the books.
The fundamental problem with comprehensive immigration reform is how it treats everyone else as second-class. For instance, comprehensive immigration reform – whether by legislation or the watered-down version Obama is performing via executive action – gives immigrants who broke the law the right to work here with few restrictions, if any.
Meanwhile, there are hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of immigrants here legally who face restrictions on who they can work for (e.g., those on H-1B visas) or who cannot work at all (e.g., those on H-4 visas). Under comprehensive immigration reform, the illegal immigrants, not the law-abiding ones, will get those restrictions lifted first. Far from going to the "back of the line," illegal immigrants would immediately accomplish the main goal for people coming to the U.S.: Employment.
But there's more: Customs and border laws don't just apply to immigrants, they also apply to U.S. citizens, who are required to present a valid passport at a recognized port of entry (e.g., fill out a customs form) when traveling. Border laws exist to catch criminals and terrorists (whether foreign or domestic) and to protect public health and safety by ensuring travelers have had the required immunizations and aren't carrying diseases or invasive species from one country to another. But comprehensive immigration reform doesn't offer any reduction in penalties for U.S. citizens who break customs laws the way it does for immigrants who do precisely the same thing.
Keep in mind, illegal immigration makes life harder for unskilled U.S. workers, because it's cheaper to employ someone who doesn't pay income taxes than someone who does. Though comprehensive immigration reform would make much of that workforce legal, it would do it by rewarding a large group of immigrants who broke the law, as opposed to a smaller group that is obeying it. Is that fair?
Finally, federal law is so complicated it's almost guaranteed that any one of us is in violation of some federal statute. So why not pass "comprehensive tax reform" that lessens the penalties for the millions of us who screwed up our IRS filings, or "comprehensive environmental reform" that brings everyone breaking EPA regulations "in from the shadows"?
No, apparently the rest of us don't merit lenience, we're all somehow second-class.
So, the next time Hillary Clinton or anyone else denounces the "partisan" attacks that are aimed at relegating illegal immigrants to a "second-class" status, remind them that, under comprehensive immigration reform, illegal immigrants will be getting a generous deal that no one else – neither legal immigrants nor U.S. citizens – is being offered.
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