Reflections on National Day of Action in Washington D.C.

Last week I traveled back to Washington D.C., along with seven other of my colleagues from the Washington State immigration bar.  Our purpose was to participate in the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s “National Day of Action”—the annual lobby day for immigration lawyers. This was my second year in a row for making this pilgrimage.

During the course of the day, I met with staffers from five different offices of the Washington delegation.  These included Rep. Jay Inslee (resigned), Rep. Doc Hastings, Rep. Norm Dicks (retiring), Rep. Rick Larsen, and Senator Murray.  My own representative, Rick Larsen, though very busy, made time to stop in and talk with us for a little while.  Thank you Rick.

The need for immigration reform persists.  Ever since I started practicing immigration law, before 9/11, there have been calls for immigration reform.  Businesses need a system of immigration laws that is responsive to their competitive needs and an evolving international business climate. Families need reform for the immigrant visa backlog (20+ years in some cases), and draconian, disingenuous laws regarding unlawful presence, to name just a few things. This year it seems that even a bipartisan successful law like the Violence Against Women Act can be fuel for partisan fires. Longtime advocates are left shaking their heads, shell shocked.

When I talked to staffers, a certain fatigue comes out when it comes to immigration issues.  There’s a certain “What can we do?” attitude, where everything has been tried, but has failed due to partisanship.  And it’s no secret–there is a real divide in Congress on a slough of issues, pitting the reds against the blues. The “insider view” now seems to be that real change in our immigration laws may only happen after one of the two political parties suffers significant losses in a key state, due to a changing demographic.  This could take one or two election cycles, at least. But then there’s also a sense of “You never know–something might come up,” especially when it comes to immigration enforcement measures. Once upon a time, it was always vogue to be tough on crime. In some places, it seems its now always good to be tough on immigration.

This is not good enough.  Business is right to expect more of Congress.  So should families, schools, non-profits, undocumented, local governments, and every other interest that immigration issues cross.  In recent years, I increasingly hear that Washington D.C. is broken, that the system is failing.  Immigration is one of THE two or three issues where our elected officials have an opportunity to prove the pundits wrong.  It won’t get done though, if “issue fatigue” is tolerated, and “political realities” carry the day.  In the case of immigration, the stalemate has lasted a decade or more. Those who are elected to govern need to govern.