Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

States take the lead in immigration game

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 8:25 AM EST, Tue January 7, 2014
As lawmakers in Washington debate how to reform America's immigration policy, the impact of any changes will be felt by those living along the U.S.-Mexico border. Here in Falfurrias, Texas -- more than 70 miles north of the border -- lie the graves of dozens of migrants who died trying to illegally cross the border. Baylor University's forensics students have exhumed 63 bodies in an effort to identify them. As lawmakers in Washington debate how to reform America's immigration policy, the impact of any changes will be felt by those living along the U.S.-Mexico border. Here in Falfurrias, Texas -- more than 70 miles north of the border -- lie the graves of dozens of migrants who died trying to illegally cross the border. Baylor University's forensics students have exhumed 63 bodies in an effort to identify them.
HIDE CAPTION
Border town impact
Border town impact
Border town impact
Border town impact
Border town impact
Border town impact
Border town impact
Border town impact
Border town impact
Border town impact
Border town impact
Border town impact
Border town impact
Border town impact
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette says federal action on immigration won't materialize in election year
  • He says states are beginning to take the lead in making changes
  • The immigration reform efforts in Washington fall victim to members of both parties, he says
  • Navarrette: Too many people have an interest in blocking immigration reform

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter @rubennavarrette.

San Diego, California (CNN) -- My son has a new video game, and I have a new problem.

I want him to clean his room, and I tell him that he can do it when the game is over. My problem is that, as he informed me recently, this game is never over. It just keeps going on to new levels, with new challenges. It never ends.

That reminds me of the immigration debate. In the vortex of New York and Washington, pundits and policy makers are once again dangling the possibility that Congress could pass immigration reform soon.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Yeah. That won't happen.

We've been hearing that immigration reform is around the corner at various times over the years, since George W. Bush kicked off this debate in September 2001 when he welcomed then-Mexican President Vicente Fox to the White House for a state dinner and the leaders announced that their countries would seek an accord to match workers with employers. A dozen years later, we're still haggling over legalizing the undocumented -- and much more.

But guess what? There is action on immigration in America, only it's not happening at the federal level. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie is expected to sign this week a bill that would allow undocumented immigrant college students to pay in-state tuition.

In California, the state Supreme Court has cleared the way for Sergio Garcia, an undocumented immigrant who went to college and law school and took the bar exam, to receive a law license. In Colorado and Arizona, lawmakers have in recent years proposed the states create their own guest worker agreements with Mexico to ensure that employers have access to labor no matter what Congress does or doesn't do.

Sen. McCain: Millions live in the shadows
Obama responds to immigration heckler
Obama y la inmigraciĆ³n
Lawmakers arrested at immigration rally

These solutions concocted by the states aren't perfect. They have their problems. But at least they're an attempt to do something, and not wait around while Washington does nothing.

In the East Coast corridor, most of the media doesn't really understand the immigration issue. For one thing, they treat it like just another issue, when it is arguably the most divisive issue that Americans have confronted since slavery. Besides, the media hates complexity, and so it tries to oversimplify the immigration issue as being solely about Republican obstinacy.

If only the GOP would get on board, the narrative goes, we'd have immigration reform. What about the fact that many Democrats oppose granting legal status to the undocumented? How does that fit into the narrative? It doesn't help that elected officials and advocacy groups are generating fog, and that special interests are putting their own agendas ahead of the needs of those they claim to represent.

I live in Southern California, and I spend a lot of time traveling thru the Southwest. In Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Dallas or San Diego, immigration isn't just an election-year wedge issue but an everyday reality. It would be difficult in these places to find anyone who believes that Congress is poised to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year.

Everyone knows that Congress is more likely to approve major legislation in odd-numbered years, because many members spend much of the even-numbered years either campaigning for re-election or avoiding doing anything risky that might jeopardize their re-election. Such as legalizing the undocumented.

If you're a Republican representing a district in the Southwest or the South, risky could mean voting for legislation that legalizes the undocumented and puts you crossways with the nativist wing of your party. If you're a Democrat from the South or the "Rust Belt" states like Ohio or Michigan, risky might mean supporting a bill to legalize the undocumented and antagonizing rank-and-file union members who worry about having to compete with newly legalized immigrants for blue-collar jobs.

So why bother keeping up the charade that immigration reform is just around the corner? Easy. In the words of Omar Little, the fictional gunman and stickup man in the HBO series, "The Wire," it's because "it's all in the game."

The immigration game is based on three principles: dishonesty, disconnect and divergent interests.

The game is dishonest, because the participants advance one lie after another, from denying that resistance to immigrants has anything to do with racism to insisting that American workers would gladly do the worst jobs for the right salary to claiming that immigrants aren't assimilating and so on.

There is a disconnect between those who argue about reform efforts and those directly impacted by them. U.S. citizens have the luxury of haggling over the details of an immigration reform package, because most of them won't be directly affected one way or another. And those most affected -- the undocumented -- aren't at the table.

And there are divergent interests between people who think they're actually on the same side. Republicans have to watch out that they're not betrayed by fellow Republicans, Democrats by fellow Democrats. This issue splits parties and divides coalitions, so it's every special interest for itself.

All this is happening on the federal level, and it's a mess. The game is designed to go on indefinitely, in part because politicians and advocacy groups won't let it end. Democrats want a wedge issue to use against Republicans, and they don't want to be known as the "pro amnesty" party. Advocacy groups need to keep funds rolling in by convincing supporters that the battle continues and the stakes have never been higher, so they can pay rent and salaries.

Readers often ask me what I would propose by way of an immigration reform plan. I have one. It includes: improved roadways and better surveillance equipment for the Border Patrol, tougher employer sanctions, National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border, a tamper-proof ID card, a pathway to earned legal status without including citizenship in the deal but allowing people to pursue it on their own, a 10-year ban on public benefits for legalized immigrants and their children, an increase in legal immigration, and other reforms.

Yet we can't even get to that -- to my plan, or yours -- until we restore honesty, integrity and common sense to the debate. And that means ending a game that no one ever wins.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 8:12 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT