The Democratic Convention in Charlotte ended last week. The media has now turned to measuring and marveling at President Obama’s post-convention bounce despite weak Labor Department data revealing persistent joblessness.

The inevitable comparisons of the two parties’ convention performances give the edge to the Democrats’ oratory, production values, crowd enthusiasm and diversity.  On immigration policy, the Dems offered more substantive messaging, while the GOP stressed photogenic speakers with ancestral memories of arrivals long ago

An historic moment occurred with a convention address in Charlotte by an undocumented immigrant, Benita Veliz, class valedictorian and DREAMer extraordinaire, whose brief remarks Dan Stein of the anti-immigration hate group, FAIR, predictably assailed as “nothing more than a celebration of lawlessness.”

Commentators contrasted Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Julian Castro (“To Mr. Rubio, Hispanics are refugees from foreign oppression, who want government to let them alone. . . . In contrast, . . . Mr. Castro . . . sees government as an essential enabler of ethnic assimilation and success”). And insiders, perhaps unwittingly, assured full employment for dentists by their vigorous teeth-gnashing over the irreconcilable differences between the parties on immigration policy. The only item of apparent common ground is the issuance of quick green cards for STEM graduates. (See Immigration Impact’s platform analysis here, and AILA’s take on the same topic here [AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 12090541, membership required].)

Given the parties’ chasmic differences, is comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) still a bridge to nowhere?  Perhaps not. A convention segment last week on POTUS (Politics of the United States), the satellite radio station, entitled “Hispanic Voices,” offered a plausible route to CIR:  

  • Latino voters turn out in large numbers; 
  • Obama is reelected, but one Congressional chamber remains under GOP control; 
  • Some Republicans — at last seeing a desolate future because the demographic tide has washed away so much of their base — want the contentious issue of immigration behind them; 
  • Obama offers the GOP a choice of legislative compromise or more executive orders on immigration that whittle down the undocumented population by creating administrative avenues for relief; 
  • This time a deal is struck.

Central to the success of this prediction is heavy Latino turnout, something to be swallowed with a sizable chunk of salt. Many of his supporters are still smarting from the broken campaign promise to address CIR in his first year as President, as well as his Guinness-record reputation as Deporter-in-Chief. Others perhaps view jobs and the economy as more important than immigration. Still others fear that Obama may cave on CIR as he reportedly did in 2007 when casting an “Aye” vote on a killer amendment to limit the guest-worker program to five years, a move that derailed the Kennedy-Kyl CIR compromise, or question Democratic resolve to pursue immigration reforms that fundamentally help people or merely curry favor and votes.

Even if Latinos flock to the polls, and the “Hispanic-Voices” scenario begins to materialize, CIR will be no cakewalk.  

Democratic versions of CIR have favored more exacting worker protections in the H-1B and L-1 categories and more frequent audits of employers than the business community may be willing to tolerate. The allocation of visa quotas for H-1B jobs and family-versus-business green cards — with family unity getting the lion’s share over employment-based slots — may create fissures in the CIR coalition.  There remains contention over the Draconian 1996 smack-downs of due-process protections for immigrants, a bone of T-Rex proportions in an era where even the protection of abused immigrant women is the sticking point in the current fight over renewing the Violence Against Women Act. And almost no one is talking about sweeping changes that would make the system more user-friendly, rational and simple – a task that would require a kind of robust country-first statesmanship that, alas, has been AWOL for many years.

Maybe the parties can start building compromises on the business-immigration side, with solid assurances that other key elements of CIR will get their due as negotiations succeed on the low-hanging fruit; or maybe not.  

Until November’s outcome reshakes the political Etch-A-Sketch, the future foretells more DREAMers like Benita Veliz stirring our hearts with DACA-spawned inspiration while immigration opponents remain intransigent and hateful like the GOP’s Steve King of Iowa who still claims to have complimented immigrants by comparing them to dogs.