Immigration: 2016 Will Be a Definitive Year

Immigration dominated much of the national dialogue in 2015 and, according to experts, will do so again in 2016

Durante años el movimiento proinmigrante ha protestado las detenciones obligatorias, las deportaciones y separaciones de familias.
Durante años el movimiento proinmigrante ha protestado las detenciones obligatorias, las deportaciones y separaciones de familias.
Foto: Shawn Thew / EFE

From the presidential race to street protests and the halls of Congress, immigration dominated much of the national dialogue in 2015 and, according to experts, will do so again in 2016.

Congress resumes its legislative session in mid-January with no clear sign of wanting to pick up the debate on a measure to legalize the undocumented population.

However, Congress did approve on December 17 a mega budget project of over one billion dollars that, in addition to avoiding a federal government shutdown, set aside Republican threats to curb the influx of up to 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016 .

Months earlier, the same Republicans had threatened to eliminate funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in retaliation for the migrant relief announced by President Barack Obama in November 2014.

What about immigration relief?

The Obama administration suffered a setback after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided last month to keep the immigration reliefs blocked, measures that would give temporary shelter to some five million undocumented immigrants under the program known as “DACA” and “DAPA.”

The issue already reached the Supreme Court, which must decide between January and February of this year, whether to accept to study the appeal of the Department of Justice.

In the event that the nine judges accept the case and, in their decision to be dictated in June 2016, vote in favor of the immigration reliefs, they most likely would be launched that month.

But, if the Supreme Court decided to postpone the case until its next session, the decision would not be taken until June 2017, six months after Obama has left office.

Immigration as electoral weapon

Activists like Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, predicts that immigration will have much weight, not only in the presidential elections, but also in local, statewide races and in the renewal of Congress.

“This issue had never been before so in front of the race and there is still time until the elections of November 8th,” he said.

Just look at how, in almost every presidential debate in both parties, there have been heated discussions on how to respond to illegal immigration in the United States.

On the Republican side, candidates such as business tycoon, Donald Trump, and Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, seek to show themselves as the toughest on illegal immigration, emphasizing the escalation of border surveillance.

In every forum, Trump repeats he is going to build a fence along the southern border -paid by Mexico- and deport all the undocumented immigrants; that is, 11 million people; while Cruz recently suggested that, like Mitt Romney in 2012, he also supports the self-deportation.

On the Democratic side, the top three candidates, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, promise to defend immigration reliefs and to continue to push immigration reform.

But if the Supreme Court declares the immigration reliefs unconstitutional, -as the lawsuit alleges- and prohibits its implementation, it is unclear how a Democratic president could implement them.

Dan Stein, an analyst at the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said in a blog that immigration “will be the defining issue” of the war, in part because public opinion “is craving a candidate who supports the freeze of immigration in general.”

“At a minimum, whoever sits in the Oval Office in 2017 will have to address the growing public concern about how immigration has eroded the sense of physical and economic security of the nation,” Stain said.

Immigrants also mobilize themselves

Pro-immigrant activists, America’s Voice among them, promise to keep citizenship campaigns, voter registration and voter mobilization in favor of immigration reform.

“There is much at stake for immigrants and their allies, but also for a Republican Party that is placed on the wrong side of our movement,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice, denouncing extremist Republican candidates formulas

Even with all the pressure and mobilization campaigns planned for 2016 by the pro-immigrant activists, it is unlikely that Congress will consider a draft immigration law similar to that approved by the Senate in 2013.