Immigration Reform: Who’s In and Who’s Out

May. 1, 2013 / By

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New America Media, Commentary, Juan Rocha

In December of 2001, an unknown law professor named Barack Obama lectured on the Civil War Amendments (the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth) to his law school students at the University of Chicago.  He explained how the Civil War Amendments redefined the social contract by transforming former slaves, who were considered three-fifths of a person under the original Constitution, into citizens of the United States. As I sat in the audience, I began to think that my own transformation from illegal immigrant to United States citizen was the result of a similar reconstruction when President Ronald Reagan and Congress passed the Immigration Reform Act of 1986.

More than a quarter of a century after that 1986 act, the country is once again at the precipice of defining who is in and who is out.

The political discourse surrounding immigration reform is about political expediency—Republicans need to recruit Hispanics to the Republican Party—the economic benefits of immigration, and, of course, border security. (In fact, the bill is titled, “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Modernization Act.”) And when policymakers in Washington refer to the 1986 reform, they remark that it failed in all three categories. The current bill, with its mathematical formulas and percentages, reflects a Congress not wanting to repeat the mistakes of 1986.

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