As the president toured the Americas, talks between the principal sponsors of comprehensive immigration reform in the last Congress -- Sen. Edward Kennedy and Sen. John McCain -- reportedly reached a stalemate with Sen. McCain backing away from a lead role on the issue. That development, more than anything President Bush may have hoped to achieve in his attempt at regional diplomacy, currently defines the immigration debate within the halls of Congress.
The need for bipartisan cooperation on immigration reform coupled with the loss of visible leadership by Sen. McCain requires proponents of immigration reform to seek a new Republican champion. Finding that person, appears to be hostage to consultations the White House, through DHS Secretary Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, is currently holding with Senate Republicans. Until those
talks, reportedly aimed at finding guiding principles for immigration reform, conclude it is difficult to see any high profile Senate Republican stepping in to fill the important role abandoned by McCain.
That President Bush time and again pointed to this intra-party discussion, when questioned about the prospects for immigration reform during his stops in Mexico and Guatemala, underscores that internal political machination, more than any sense of regional context, is guiding the current discussion of immigration reform in Congress.
Through his travel itinerary, President Bush may have wanted to send the dual messages that the United States is cognizant of the impact that our immigration system has on others and that he respects understands, and values the input of our neighbors on this important issue. Through his words and action, however, President Bush sent a very different message, one that emphasized the domestic political dynamics of solving the comprehensive immigration reform puzzle.
Although hard domestic political bargains will have to be struck to make immigration reform a reality, this is not to say that the views of our neighbors and the impact of our broken immigration system on the region are discounted by all who are working for comprehensive immigration reform in Washington. That is clearly not the case.
Leaders across the political spectrum understand the need to improve relations with the more than 500 million people with whom we share the Americas. Many, including President Bush, also understand that enacting comprehensive immigration reform would help that cause.
Despite this understanding, whatever impact the president's trip may have had on the debate is still being drowned out by other factors.
Dan Restrepo is Director of The Americas Project at the Center for American Progress
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Albion Monitor March
15, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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