Local Politics

Sunday, Nov 10 2013 06:00 PM

JOSE GASPAR: Sadly, it'd take a 'Hail Mary' to get immigration reform done this year

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    By Henry A. Barrios/ The Californian

    Californian contributing columnist Jose Gaspar.

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BY JOSE GASPAR Contributing columnist

Going once, going twice... it appears "leaders" in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will fail to pass any comprehensive immigration reform this year. When Congress returns to work Tuesday, there will be just 16 legislative days left this year for it to take action on what is probably the most politically contentious issue to surface in recent years.

"It's not going anywhere, it doesn't seem like it," said immigrant-rights activist Jess Nieto of Bakersfield.

Nieto said he hopes he's wrong, but he could very well be right.

At this point, it's going to take the football equivalent of a Hail Mary pass to get it debated, voted and passed. To truly appreciate the work that's gone into crafting a bill addressing the complex issue, you only have to look at the players involved.

Talk about strange political bedfellows, you have groups that are frequently diametrically opposed to each other coming together trying to convince House members to put politics aside, get off their butts, take action and vote on it already.

But no. Politics trumps what's good for the country in so many ways.

Where is the political will to get this done? Searching for an answer, I turned to that radical group known as the Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce to gain some insight. I posed the question to Executive Director Cindy Pollard.

"That's a good question," said Pollard. And then a loooong pause indicating deep thought. "I wonder if there is concern about our local, state and national economy to get the job done? Because we can only take so much pain," she said.

While left-of-center and immigrant-rights groups have long made the call for comprehensive immigration reform, more than 600 conservative leaders from more than 40 states representing law enforcement, churches and business leaders hit Washington Oct. 28 to deliver a simple message: The Republican-controlled House needs to move forward this year on broad-based immigration reform.

While the Senate passed a bipartisan bill earlier this year, House leaders refuse to bring any such legislation up for a vote. House bill 15 introduced in October by Democrat Joe Garcia of Florida is much the same as the one passed by the Senate. Like its companion, this one also calls for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who qualify. Up to now, however, just a handful of House Republicans have had the political courage to endorse the bill. Among them is local Republican David Valadao of Hanford, who represents part of Kern County.

"Addressing immigration reform cannot wait," said Valadao, the son of Portuguese immigrants. He's also very cognizant that his district is 72 percent Hispanic and that Democrats have already lined up a formidable opponent, Amanda Renteria, to run against him next year.

Valadao also circulated a letter calling on House Republican leadership to hold a vote on reform, though not specifically on the Garcia bill, before time runs out and is asking his fellow Republicans to sign on.

Fat chance. To date, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield remains MIA on immigration reform.

"If the House leadership wanted to do something, they would," said Nieto.

One fear some Republicans have about legalizing millions of undocumented people is that they would then vote Democratic. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa has been quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, "What we're talking about is the suicide of the Republican Party."

But under current proposed legislation, it would take more than a decade for qualified undocumented people to earn citizenship to be eligible to vote. That means Republicans have at least 10 years to get their message out to these new potential voters -- and if Republicans can't convince them to vote their way, then they deserve to lose.

"If nothing is done, we will continue to see a broken system, creating significant problems," said Pollard.

Maintaining the status quo means millions of people continue living in the shadows. For agriculture, failure to act means a continued unstable labor force vital to California's economy.

Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, said that while any such legislation would take time to be implemented, it would send a clear message not to deport farmworkers in the meantime.

Nassif said he recently met with House leaders to plead his case for immigration reform and got the impression Republicans are fragmented on the issue. Some want it, some don't. The conventional wisdom is that if immigration reform fails this year, don't expect it to happen in 2014.

"I'm very skeptical something would pass in an election year," said Nassif.

The greatest impact though, is the human toll. Millions of people live with fear of being deported. Their lives depend on the actions of politicians to give them hope at a better life. Barring a last-minute miracle, they may have to live with that fear indefinitely.

-- Jose Gaspar is a reporter for "KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News" and a contributing columnist for The Californian. These are Gaspar's opinions, not necessarily The Californian's. Email him at elcompa29@gmail.com.

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