by Carlos Batara
Before becoming a Riverside immigration attorney, I learned the art of politics. I often spent several months crafting new legislation. At the end, the legislation was sometimes not introduced. Between start and finish, political winds had shifted. I was told the votes were no longer there. My work product was neatly put in a manila folder and locked away in a filing cabinet.
Are Politics And Values Incompatible?
On Sundays I spent the afternoon with my boss at his home. I would brief him on the upcoming week’s legislative agenda. We discussed pro and con arguments. We analyzed alternative outcomes. We scrutinized the key players on each side. We assessed the public sentiment.
It was late September, elections were nearing, and a heated issue was up for a vote the following week. Most financial power players were lined up against the measure. The public was hotly divided, though a slight majority supported the measure. I supported the measure. My boss, deep inside, supported the measure. I encouraged him to publicly vote his conscience.
“Carlos,” he scolded, “that’s reckless. You’ll never have a political future because you’re too philosophical.”
I asked for clarification. “By too philosophical, do you mean I’m too tied to my values?”
He answered, “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.”
I replied, “”With all due respect, sir, I do not believe one can be effective in politics unless one stands up for his or her convictions.”
On Monday I tendered my resignation.
Obama’s DREAM Act Agenda: Lame Duck Politics?
Time and time again over the past year, I have been painfully reminded of my political past. Every time immigration issues appear to gain traction, Democratic Party leaders squirm as they look for a way out.
Recently, Obama addressed the DREAM Act at Georgetown University.
He told the audience, “I actually feel somewhat optimistic that we can get it done in the next legislative session.” The exact meaning of the next legislative session was left unclear.
Prerna Lal, writing for Immigration Rights , pointed out Obama’s ambiguity:
“Punting the DREAM Act to the next legislative session means that it would most likely remain a dream for quite a while, unless Obama really meant the lame-duck session after the November elections.”
Lame Duck Politics: A Lame Political Strategy
Lal noted the likely folly of focusing on the lame-duck session for a legislative victory. If a fortified Republican Congress sweeps into power, Democrats will only have 61 lame-duck days to pass legislation. Under such a scenario, Lal asserts, it will be unlikely for Republicans to give any short-term victories to Obama for his own re-election bid.
On the other hand, if Obama meant the legislative session beginning next January, the prognosis is equally dim. Given current election projections, it seems Democrats will lose, not gain seats in the November elections.
As Lal understands, it’s simple math. Democrats, fearing the course of political winds, could not get pass the DREAM Act when they had control of the House and Senate. Having fewer friendly votes is hardly a reason for optimism.
For many reform advocates, Obama’s Georgetown speech was election hot air.
Forks In The Road
Despite the likely obstacles, from the standpoint of a green card-citizenship attorney who helps immigrant youth, I am optimistic about the DREAM Act. President Obama will gear up his re-election campaign. He will realize the need to reinvigorate promises made to immigrant communities which supported his party two years ago.
In my view, debate over immigration reform will sharpen in 2011 and 2012. Even as many Democratic representatives continue to squirm, they’ll feel increased pressure to support some form of pro-immigrant legislation.
“In crises,” Henry Kissinger once noted, “the most daring course is often safest.”
The day after I tendered my resignation, my boss was absent from the controversial vote. It passed.
So will the DREAM Act.
After all, in politics, values count.
Carlos Batara is an immigration lawyer, and has offices in both San Diego and Hemet.