The issue of immigration reform has long vexed lawmakers in Washington D.C., and the latest attempt at comprehensive reform has once again stalled in the Senate. With midterm elections coming up in November, it seems unlikely that Congress will make any meaningful progress on the issue before voters head to the polls. This impasse leaves millions of undocumented immigrants, including many living and working in Los Angeles, in continued limbo and uncertainty.
Los Angeles is home to one of the largest immigrant populations in the United States. Over 3.5 million foreign-born residents live in Los Angeles County, comprising over 35% of the total county population according to US Census data. Many of these immigrants come from Mexico and Central America and entered the country illegally or overstayed visas. While LA prides itself on being a diverse, immigrant-friendly city, the lack of federal immigration reform means many local immigrant families still live in fear of deportation.
In 2013, the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants while ramping up border security funding. However, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refused to take up the Senate bill. The midterm elections later that year brought a power shift in the Senate with Republicans gaining the majority, essentially killing any hopes for reform during the Obama presidency.
Earlier this year, a small bipartisan group of Senators again tried crafting a compromise reform package. The rough proposal included legal status for Dreamers – young immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children – further strengthening border security, changes to help maintain an agricultural labor force, and new restrictions on legal immigration. But negotiations broke down over disagreements about detailed provisions. Additionally, President Trump sent mixed signals, at times supporting reform efforts and at other times repudiating deals negotiated by his own party members in Congress.
With both Republicans and Democrats using immigration as a wedge issue to animate their respective bases ahead of the midterms, it appears chances for reform are dead for now. Some lawmakers hold out hope that a lame duck session after the election could present an opportunity for compromise. But the issue remains deeply divisive. Pro-reform activists fear that even if Democrats retake part of Congress, the next legislative window may not come until 2021.
In the meantime, Los Angeles remains home to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants waiting anxiously for the chance to achieve legal status and come out of the shadows. Many have lived in Southern California for years, working, paying taxes, and raising American citizen children. But without federal legislative action, they continue struggling to fully participate in civic life and remain at risk for deportation. Local leaders can enact policies to help protect immigrant communities, but ultimately achieving lasting reform will require bipartisan compromise and leadership at the national level. For now, immigration reform remains stalled, as it has many times before, leaving the fate of millions unresolved. With so much at stake in people’s daily lives, lawmakers on both sides must rededicate themselves to thoughtful compromises the next time an opportunity emerges.