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Reason for hope on immigration reform for 2014: column

5:10 PM, Dec. 27, 2013  |  Comments
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For supporters of immigration reform, 2013 was a roller coaster of hope and frustration. In February, President Obama declared in his State of the Union address that "the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform." In June, theSenate passed a sweeping immigration overhaulwith bipartisan support. Then despite backing frombusiness, faith and labor leaders, the bill stalled in the House against a backdrop of record levels of deportations. Yet immigration reform is the issue that will not die, and there are reasons to be optimistic about it still becoming reality.

For starters, the just-passed budget deal shows that Congress is not completely dysfunctional. Although the agreement itself is not historic, it is remarkable because it broke through the gridlock that has lately paralyzed our government. That means there will be more time in January to tackle immigration.

Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner has begun to push back against the far-right wing of his party. He has criticized conservative interest groups, saying, "They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous." Earlier this month, Boehner also hired a new top aide to work on immigration issues. Boehner, who says he supports reform, might finally be ready to assert his leadership and get back to governance.

Second, Jeh Johnson's confirmation as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is an opportunity for the Obama administration to turn a fresh page at the department. "I do not believe that deportation quotas or numeric goals are a good idea," he wrote in a letter to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Johnson has defended the Senate immigration bill. He has spoken about the importance of policy transparency, which has too often been lacking at DHS. His background in national security suggests that he could prioritize protecting the USA from terrorists, rather than deporting undocumented immigrants.

Finally, look at the grass-roots activism surrounding immigration reform. Only a few years ago, it was considered brave for immigrants to "come out" publicly as undocumented. Now they are leading marches, rallies and prayer vigils nationwide. They have formed human chains to block buses deporting undocumented immigrants,shut down congressional offices with sit-ins and fasted in front of the White House. Collectively, these activists have turned immigration reform from an issue into a full-fledged movement.

None of this means immigration reform will be an easy lift in 2014. Already,conservative lawmakers point to the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act as evidence that the government cannot tackle huge problems. But Obama has said that he is open to a piecemeal approach on immigration.

Bob Dane of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which opposes any "amnesty," admits that "the ground is very fertile" for a bill. And clear majorities of Americans continue to support reform that includes a path to citizenship for the undocumented. Taken together, these factors show that a "path to yes" on immigration is still possible.

Optimism is always welcome around the holidays. So don't give up yet on immigration reform - it may be down, but it's not out.

Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York.

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