03/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Immigration Reform is a Promise Waiting to be Filled

With each stroke of his pen, every transatlantic call made and all the bipartisan meetings he's resided over so far, President Obama is on track to fulfill his campaign promises.

Only a week into the job and Obama has already reversed policies on carbon dioxide emissions, signed orders to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, extended an invitation to dialogue with the Muslim world and started the discussion for the drawdown of American troops from Iraq.

Of course, that's only the beginning. Every day brings another new piece of action from the President and his administration, along with, hope from any one of several advocacy groups that their particular issue is next on the table. So, it's not unreasonable for those in the Latino community, who fully supported Obama's candidacy based on his immigration reform platform, wonder when their concerns will be put on the administration's to-do list.

Unfortunately, that answer may already have been delivered.

If Obama wanted a litmus test to see how "palatable" the immigration reform issue is now compared to during the campaign, he doesn't have to look any farther than the recent happenings in Congress.

Republicans in both the House of Representatives and the Senate have taken turns either opposing pending legislation because of references to immigrants contained in the bills or amending them to include action specifically impacting undocumented immigrants.

The first sign that the term "immigrants" was still politically nuclear was during the debate of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Among the many provisions to ensure that more eligible children receive health insurance, there is a section that allows legal immigrant children to be eligible to receive either Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance plan for the poor, or SCHIP without having to wait the now-required five years.

The House passed it. Yet, Republicans in the Senate are fighting the bill because of the legal immigrant section.

Another example of how immigration isn't far from the minds of Republican lawmakers is the economic stimulus bill. For all the complaining from House Republicans who thought some of the provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 did nothing to save money and create jobs, it's odd that a Republican-sponsored amendment to the bill requiring anyone who receives stimulus funds to use the costly federal E-Verify program would be promoted by a group so concerned with saving money.

E-Verify, an internet-based program set up for employers to electronically check federal information proving a worker's legal eligibility to work, exacts a financial toll on businesses, especially small businesses.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, small businesses collectively employ half of the nation's private sector workforce. With the struggling economy, it doesn't make sense to impose added financial burdens with a system that's been proven to be unreliable and inefficient.

Some analysts are guessing that Obama, while he won't utter the words "immigration reform" in the same breath, might be more willing to tackle the issue one piece at a time. That would mean maybe supporting the DREAM Act one year or creating a guest worker program to fill seasonal agricultural jobs another time or issuing an order to halt worksite raids sometime later.

While any of the issues that comprise immigration reform are worthy to stand on their own merits for passage, a piecemeal approach is not the way to go. It will only prolong the divisiveness in the country over the issue and the suffering of the people impacted by current policy. Also, it would just encourage local and state governments to continue to draft their own versions of immigration reform.

From past examples, those measures are for the most part draconian and seriously unconstitutional.

What is needed is a comprehensive, one-time fix from Congress that is fair, compassionate, visionary and, yes, tough. It must also recognize the fact that 12 million people call this country home.

And when it finally crosses the desk of President Obama, it won't be just another bill signed into law -- it will be the fulfillment of a promise.

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