Chances for comprehensive immigration reform in the new Congress seem pretty bleak just a few weeks into the term. Republicans in the House showed in their unanimous opposition to the Obama stimulus package that they will vote their own parochial interests rather than those of the country. The fact is that the Republicans left in the House are the hard core who come from right wing constituencies where immigration reform is about as popular as skunk invasions. If they agree all together to oppose the stimulus package then they will certainly band together against comprehensive reform. If you have any doubts on that issue, consider the words of new Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on Fox News last Sunday when he was asked whether Republicans were ready to move towards immigration reform. Given that the Republican vote among Hispanics fell 13% in the last election, you would assume that the party would want to pay more attention to this critical constituency. Only in the world of George Orwell and the Big Lie would Steele's response to the following question posed by Chris Wallace on Fox News constitute a change in policy. Wallace: Does the GOP need to change its position on immigration reform, guest workers, path to citizenship, to reach out and say to Hispanics, "You have a home in the Republican Party?" Steele: No. Well, I think the GOP's position on immigration is very much the position of many, many Hispanics who are in this country. Wallace: Wait. Is the GOP position the position of George Bush and John McCain, which is for immigration reform, or ... or is it the position that was build the fence? Steele: The GOP's position is secure our borders first. Let us know and let us make sure the American people know that we've taken care of the important business of dealing with illegal immigration into this country. You cannot begin to address the concerns of the people who are already here unless and until you have made certain that no more are coming in behind them. Wallace: So no change in the position of the party. Steele: No change in the position on the party on that. Steele's contention that Hispanics agree with the GOP position has to be one of the most blatant mistruths in this political season. Given that reality, it is high time the comprehensive immigration lobby starting looking at a different way to get the job done. It is clear that the omnibus, one size fits all approach which attracts such Republican ire will not pass. A piecemeal solution where various aspects of the issue are addressed in much less stormy conditions seems the only way forward. In such a strategy, issues such as the Dream Act, which allows young men and women who came here as children and have no other country to go back to, should be given priority. It is quite likely that farm worker groups will also manage to pass something that allows big agriculture to hire laborers from Mexico and elsewhere legally when they are needed. In such an environment it will be every interest group for themselves. We in the Irish community must be prepared for that. The E-3 Australian visa program, which allows 10,000 a year to come from Australia and renew their visas every two years, is one way forward. The hope is that the undocumented could avail of such a program if they returned home to apply for the visas, and were no longer undocumented when they did so. It is a tough lift, but nevertheless it can be accomplished. There are some other options too, but unless we approach this debate in a forthright and clear manner we will fail to learn the lessons of last year's bitter loss on immigration reform. As stories of many more Irish coming here fleeing hard times in Ireland again begin to percolate, we must make a major new effort to ensure our community is able to make their case too, along with everyone else in the great immigration debate.
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